India: Hyderabad’s century-old historic Osmania Hospital faces existential threat

Osmania hospital
The hospital building with domes and minarets along with a similar High Court building across the river had completely changed the skyline of the city and became big tourist attraction at the time. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Hyderabad: Existential threat to Hyderabad’s century-old Osmania Hospital, an iconic heritage structure, was once again looming large as the leader of influential Muslim political party Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen Asaduddin Owaisi said that a new hospital building should be constructed even if the government had to demolish the old structure.

Almost six-year-old controversy over the proposed demolition of the magnificent but dilapidated building was back in the headlines when Hyderabad member of parliament Owaisi, along with 9 legislators of his party, visited the hospital premises to have a first hand assessment of the pathetic situation of the premier hospital.

Later, addressing a press conference Owaisi criticised the government for neglecting the Osmania Hospital which was catering to the needs of the people of not only Hyderabad and other parts of Telangana but even the neighbouring states of Karnataka and Maharashtra.

“Whether the government wants to demolish the old building or do something else, we want the construction of a new building without any further delay”, he said. “If the Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao wants he can build the new building at a cost of Rs1,000 crore (Rs 10 billion)”, he said.

Poor maintenance of the building

* Osmania Hospital, built on the banks of the river Musi by the last Nizam Mir Osman Ali Khan in 1919, was the first big modern hospital of India.

* The hospital building with domes and minarets along with a similar High Court building across the river had completely changed the skyline of the city and became big tourist attraction at the time.

* Over the last few decades, the hospital building fell on hard times due to the lack of maintenance and upkeep against the vagaries of the times and climate.

* After years of complaints that the chunks of the ceiling and other parts of the building were falling off posing a grave threat to the patients and the staff, Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao sparked off a major controversy in 2015 by announcing a plan to raze the old building and instead build two towers in its place.

* But it outraged the heritage activists and NGOs and their strong opposition forced the government to lay the proposal to the rest.

* However in July last year the flooding of the hospital after heavy rains, the old building was completely closed and all the in patient wards, operations theatres and other departments were moved to a relatively new building. But it badly affected the functioning of the hospital and services and number of surgeries had to be curtailed by half due to the constraint of space.

Owaisi expressed regret that while the Chief Minister has announced plans to build three new hospitals in eastern, western and northern parts, he completely ignored the south, which is the old city of Hyderabad.

Now Owaisi’s outburst out of exasperation that a new infra-structure should be built at any cost, even if the old building had to be cleared off, has left the heritage activists shocked as MIM had opposed any such proposal in the past.

“We demand that the Chief Minister should sanction a new building. We are not at all concerned about the heritage building. We are concerned about people’s lives. If you want to keep the building, keep it if you want to demolish, do so”, said Owaisi.

It evoked strong opposition from various quarters including the alumni of the Osmania Medical College.

“It is wrong to say that the old building was on the verge of collapse or completely decayed. It was closed last year, citing the inundation of rain water. The main reason was the clogging of main holes”, said Dr. Iqbal Jaweed, Executive Committee member of Indian Medical Association and Osmania Medical College Alumni Association. He said that the old building had several operation theatres for various specialties such as transplant of kidney, liver and keen joint replacement to general surgeries. “The heritage building had a sentimental attachment for many people”, he said, recalling that even 1,000-odd martyrs of Telangana movement had breathed their last there.