By T S Sudhir
This monsoon, an ornamental flake of the Charminar fell off. Good reason for concerned citizens to press the panic button. The 419-year-old monument, full of cracks and reduced to a resting place for security personnel camping to ensure communal peace in the Old city area, is admittedly in bad shape. The Archaelogical Survey of India (ASI) described it as a minor problem that will be fixed once the rainy season is over. But will this structure, raped by air and noise pollution every single minute, 365 days of the year, be another crumbling heritage structure of Hyderabad?
No, says well-known historian Safiullah. “The Charminar is structurally very strong and is built to withstand even an earthquake of 8 on the Richter scale. Yes, superficially it looks in a very sad state. It would of course, help if the area around the Charminar was made a no-traffic zone. But if the ASI gives the monument an acid wash, all the cracks will disappear,” he says reassuringly.
That’s some good news. Atleast the Charminar will not one day be replaced by a board, that will say `The Charminar stood here’.
Four km from the Charminar, Sultan Bazaar is likely to meet that fate. This is a 150-year-old market that was a shopping area for the British troops stationed at the Residency. This popular market may become part of history when Hyderabad metro becomes a reality.
All critics of the Hyderabad metro project heaved a sigh of relief when Ramalinga Raju’s ungentlemanly act derailed his son’s metro plans. But now the engine is catching steam once again in the hands of infrastructure giant L&T. Hyderabadis are concerned is that the Metro will cut the city’s umbilical chord with its past and heritage.
The Hyderabad chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) is articulating the citizens’ voice. Its convenor, P Anuradha Reddy, a fiesty lady whose family was associated with the old Hyderabad airport at Begumpet, that was started by the Nizam, says she is distressed that absolutely no concern has been paid to the aspect of heritage in the planning or routing of the alignments.
“The Metro runs through some core heritage areas and open spaces like the Assembly, Public Gardens, Mozzam Jahi Market, Sultan Bazar, Parade Grounds, Secunderabad Clock tower. Most of these structures are part of Nizam-time heritage of Hyderabad and it would be a pity if the city is to be defaced with elevated trains chugging along, adjacent to these buildings.”
In another four months, work will start on the Metro. Intach wants all alternatives to be explored before the grounding. “A public exhibition with detailed area wise plans and views of all stations and heritage zones should be immediately organized by the Hyderabad Metro Rail Limited and the feedback be incorporated to make this a citizen-friendly venture,” says Anuradha.
The Hyderabad Metro Rail website lists out in great detail the advantages of having a metro in the city. Like how the 14.78 km Secunderabad to Falaknuma stretch will be covered in 22 minutes as opposed to a road journey of 80 min. How with a frequency run of 3 to 5 minutes, the Metro can carry 14.76 lakh passengers every day in 2015 and 22 lakh by 2025.
Impressive figures yes. But if the experience of the Delhi metro is anything to go by, the upper middle class will still choose the steering wheel of its BMWs, Skodas and Mercs.
C Ramachandraiah of Citizens for Better Public Transport filed a PIL in the Andhra Pradesh High Court two years ago, opposing the project on grounds of noise pollution.
“In the silent zone category, the central pollution control board stipulates a maximum level of 50 decibels during day and 45 decibels at night. The Metro, according to the officials own admission, will generate a noise level of 85 decibels. And according to our survey, there are 320 spots along the routes which fall in the silent category,” he says.
A couple of years ago, a group of architects had organised a futuristic exhibition of photographs that showed how prime spots in Hyderabad will look once the Metro stops at an elevated station, at the height of the 3rd floor, every km. It would be an understatement to say the photographs were an eyesore.
Also when compared to Delhi that has much wider roads, Hyderabad’s present roads aren’t good enough even for the existing 28 lakh motorists. Will they be able to take the width of the metro as well? Look at some of the graphics that are on the Metro Rail’s website.
Those espousing the Metro’s cause argue, Metro is the way to go. Especially when almost every other city in the country is preparing to get on track. The Hyderabadi however, wants to know the fine print hidden in the big figures that scream 12000 crore rupees project, 71 km long, 66 stations, three lines.
Says Ramachandraiah, “For the last three years, we have been fighting to get information on the Hyderabad metro for the public. But no proper public consultation for the project was done.” Interestingly, the Metro rail website states `this page is being upgraded’ when you click on the FAQs (frequently asked questions) icon !
Hyderabad’s 80 lakh stakeholders have the right to know how the Metro will change their lives. For better or for the worse. After all, not everyone in the city is as strong as the Charminar.
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