By Deepak Kant
For almost 10 months since its inception, some members of the Hyderabad Heritage Trust were busy networking with government officials lobbying for a change at Heritage sites in Hyderabad.
Sometime in June, the government dropped a bombshell that it had plans to demolish Errum Manzil to make way for a new assembly. Disturbing as the news was, many of us swung into action raising our voices against the decision. Late evening on June 27, I was shocked to see a news video of Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao, laying the foundation stone at Errum Manzil. I cannot forget the repulsion, I felt, as I saw the CM wield a crowbar in a symbolic gesture of digging the pit for a foundation.
Later that night I wanted to confirm the location of the pit to ascertain if it was indeed heralding the end of the palace’s existence. My wife, daughter and me that same evening we drove in the dark up the driveway of Errum Manzil. The palace looked hauntingly beautiful and this was the first time, my wife and daughter were seeing the palace. They were equally shocked that someone would have the heart to tear such a spectacular edifice down. As we drove up to where the inner courtyard was located, we noticed a huge shamiana and some workers busy taking it down.
We parked by the side and while the family waited in the car, I walked up to a worker and asked where the foundation stone was laid. He motioned towards a tree right at the heart of the courtyard close to the palace. In the dark, I walked up to the tree to realise that the ceremony that took place there that afternoon was indeed heralding the impending decimation of the palace. I stood there silently as a thought crept in.
This was not about a building of brick and mortar, beautiful as it was, being torn down. I felt violated. As the present generation of a family that has considered Hyderabad home for the past 350 years, something deep inside felt violated. It instantly felt like an affront to who we were as Hyderabadis and our very identity as this city’s citizens. I realised Errum Manzil like so much else was our legacy. Hyderabad’s legacy.
In that dark moment that lasted a few minutes, I made a promise to myself, come what may, even if it meant we have to move a mountain, we cannot let the government proceed with their plans. I walked back silently to the car and as we drove away, my wife categorically stated that we must do whatever it takes to save this fabulous palace.
I didn’t need to think much to realise that going legal was not the only route to stall the impending doom. The very next day I was on the phone with my classmate from decades ago Ramakant Reddy who was an advocate at the High Court.
I said, “Rama are you aware of what’s happening to Errum Manzil?”
He said, “Yes, what do you want to do about it ?”
“We have to stop it,” I said.
“Let’s do it,” said Rama
“But we can’t afford it. There’s hardly any money in the trust,” I said.
“Don’t worry Deepak. Just get me what you have on the Nawab and the palace’s history and we’ll get started,” said Rama.
Overwhelmed, I asked, “Are you sure you want to do this? We are after all taking on the government.”
“If we as Hyderabadis don’t do this who will?” Rama quipped.
I took ‘Days of the Beloved’ from our home library and gave it to Rama. He called me late that night saying, “This man was indeed special. Fakhr-ul-Mulk was an amazing person.” We both started discussing the plan of action.
Very early on Rama alerted me, saying Chief Justice Raghavendra Singh Chauhan was a very learned man and that we would have to build a very technical case for him to even take note of our arguments.
Sure enough in the days that followed, arguments being placed by a PIL already in place were being categorically rejected. The Chief Justice kept stating, show us our jurisdiction. Demonstrate the jurisdiction the court has to intervene in this matter. The state decisions cannot be interfered with by the judiciary. The separation of powers upheld by the Supreme Court meant courts had to exercise restraint in how they get involved in legislative matters. The advocate general representing the state was pointing this out. That it was entirely a state prerogative. Especially since there was no law being broken.
Errum Manzil like 136 other monuments was not under the Heritage Act. Regulation 13 which had been repealed by the state meant it was free to do as it pleases.
Every day late in the evening Rama and I would debate these issues over the phone.
Rama kept saying, “Find me a case that sets a precedent. Ideally a Supreme Court case. Where a building unprotected should be saved or had been saved. He was asking me to do research. And I did. Scouring through cases on the internet I started studying other cases and our Constitution.
We argued relentlessly. He would don the hat of the CJ dismissing my submissions ruthlessly. I realised soon that Rama had a fascinating way to build his case. He was picking my brain to see if I could come up with where the law was being broken. As I would passionately argue as a layman Rama was internally translating our debate into tenable legal arguments.
In a nutshell, we maintained that the government knew what they were doing. That the system is weak and by stating there was no law broken they were in full rights to do as they please. I argued about certain fundamental rights and some directive principles. Rama was again ruthlessly demolishing my arguments.
In frustration, I started researching the HMDA and found that in the masterplan all the registered 13 sites were still listed. The HMDA had gone through a laborious process to enlist the buildings under reg 13 and a Heritage Conservation Committee was in place. A due process was followed. How could then everything be binned by scrapping Reg 13?
It was at this time when arguments were being placed before the bench that the CJ masterfully stated, “How come none of you have considered the General Clauses Act?” Back to the research table we delightfully discovered this brilliant law that says once a privilege is granted by law it cannot be undone by subsequent Acts or repeals.
I won’t bore you all with intricacies of the precedent cases we used but in a nutshell the sheer brilliance of Rama to scour through the entire gamut of law and precedents, at times even referring to cases from other countries, he finally drafted the written arguments for submission, details of which I will share in a separate post, and asked me to read it. I went through it all only to sit back feeling we had placed a very sound argument before the bench.
Then a disturbing thought arose. By now I was losing my sleep over this case and so was Rama. What if the judge is swayed? The horror of that possibility sent shivers down my spine.
Who was Raghavendra Singh Chauhan? I wanted to know more about him. I started watching his lectures/talks on YouTube and then I came across an amazing speech of his right here in Hyderabad at the Ramkrishna Mission. It was a long long speech almost 40 minutes I think, but, as I watched him speak I realised I was listening to a man who had an upbringing as thorough as myself rooted in values and culture and evident that culture and heritage were at the core of his being. He is a true Indian.
Despite having grown up in the US he embodies all those values that make us all who we are. Rooted in values of care, respect, and integrity. I called Rama to tell him, “This man would have to go against his grain to allow Errum Manzil to be demolished.” No one can sway the CJ.
All the arguments had been heard and written accounts submitted. I no longer was worried. We had done a masterful job of arguing the case and we had a brilliant CJ in place who innately understands what culture is and its relevance to society. Deep inside I knew we had nailed the case. I knew Errum Manzil would never get demolished, we just had to wait for the judgment.
After a long lull when the judgment was finally announced yesterday, it bore out the very basic fundamental values that make India a great nation. I am proud to say I am a Hyderabadi. I salute people like Ramakant and Mr O.M. Debara who so selflessly put himself out there to uphold what was deeply essential for our society.
This was a job well done and I am deeply satisfied by the outcome.