The hurried demolition of the Telangana secretariat has affected grievance redress mechanisms
In Telangana, people will have to wait some more to get access to the top levels of administration and represent their grievances as the construction of the new secretariat building is unlikely to be completed any time soon. With the current secretariat functioning from a makeshift building, BRKR Bhavan, and the several offices of Ministers and senior bureaucrats situated in different areas of Hyderabad, people have complained that they are unable to represent their grievances to the authorities concerned for timely redress. The restrictions being imposed on entry into the makeshift secretariat are also complicating matters.
In the past, the secretariat was where all Ministers and senior bureaucrats would be present at any given point of time. Their availability ensured that at least some grievances were resolved immediately while the others were noted down for further examination. After the departments were shifted to different locations due to lack of space in the makeshift building, this was no longer the case.
Reasons for demolition
Following the bifurcation of erstwhile Andhra Pradesh in 2014, the secretariat buildings were divided into a ratio of 58:42 for Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, respectively, for 10 years, till 2024. But the Andhra government decided to move out and construct its own secretariat building in Amaravati. The K. Chandrasekhar Rao government then decided to demolish and rebuild the one located in Hyderabad. The old complex comprised 10 blocks, including one that was not in use. The government wanted to replace it with a state-of-the-art complex so that it could accommodate all the departments at one place. Before the complex, comprising a building constructed by the Nizams in the 1880s, was demolished, the departments were shifted to the temporary secretariat. A four-member commitee constituted before the old complex was vacated told the Court that one of the main reasons for demolishing the buildings was that files were frequently transferred from one building to another within the complex. This process, the committee contended, exposed the files to the sun and rains and more importantly, left them vulnerable to tampering. Anyone could access these files and so they were not confidential, they said. The committee also said fire safety was inadequate in the old complex.
The demolition has not only affected the people but also led to problems of coordination between different departments. The restrictions on entry into the makeshift secretariat have defeated the spirit of people’s governance, says Forum for Good Governance secretary M. Padmanabha Reddy. This brings to mind the time when former Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, N. Chandrababu Naidu, started shifting the secretariat to Vijayawada and Guntur following complaints that it was difficult to access government functionaires even after bifurcation.
Questions are now being raised about why the government did not factor in developments like the COVID-19 pandemic while demolishing the old secretariat complex. Retired bureaucrat R.V. Chandravadan says the government should have taken up the process in a phased manner instead of hurriedly destroying the old complex, which included some buildings barely two decades old.
Whatever the reasons for the government to do this in a hurry, it is the people of the State who may have to reckon with a loss of governance quality. The lesson here is that any decision to move a secretariat can never be made lightly, and certainly not without a watertight plan and blueprint in place for future arrangements.