Is Telangana HC being misled on Qutb Shahi tombs Interpretation Centre?

One of the petitioners who filed a case against the interpretation centre had tried to bury a dead body illegally in the Qutb Shahi tombs complex in 2016. The incident raises concerns as to how the courts are entertaining petitions filed by such encroachers.

Hyderabad: No good deed goes unpunished. This seems to be the case with the Qutb Shahi tombs in the city, which is currently facing a range of issues that have created major hurdles for its restoration. The most peculiar, perhaps even odd, is with its upcoming interpretation centre. Work on its construction was supposed to begin earlier, but a case by petitioners with questionable intent and backgrounds have put a stop on the works.

The Qutb Shahi tombs is the royal necropolis of the Qutb Shahi or Golconda dynasty (1518-1687), which once ruled from the Golconda fort, and later founded Hyderabad in 1591. The tombs complex comprises nearly 100 structures, including tombs, gardens, pavilions and mosques. The site is currently being restored by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) in association with the Telangana Department of Heritage.

The work on the tombs by the AKTC has been remarkable to say the least. The organisation, which also restored Humayun’s tomb (among many others) in Delhi, also saved the Badi Baoli (stepwell) in the Qutb Shahi tombs complex from collapse half a decade ago after a portion of the stepwell fell due to heavy rains. Today it has been fully restored.

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Not just that, other monuments like the tombs of Sultan Quli (founder of Golconda dynasty) and his grandson Mohd. Quli Qutb Shah (city’s founder) have been restored to their full glory.

The interpretation centre

The whole point of an interpretation centre is to help visitors and tourists understand the history of the Golconda dynasty, and through the Qutb Shahi tombs complex itself. The centre, which was suppose to come up on where the Deccan Heritage Park now stands, would rightly let visitors enter the tombs in its actual order.

As of now, when one visits the tombs complex, the first structure to be seen is the tomb of Sultan Abdullah Qutb Shah, the sixth Golconda king, who was the last one to be buried there (the last king Abul Hassan was taken captive by the Mughals after they captured Hyderabad in 1687). In fact, even the Archaeological Survey of India’s (ASI) national policy also advices interpretation centres at all major historical sites.

The issue – who are the petitioners?

As of now, work on the interpretation centre has been stopped since nine months on the basis of a petition from seven persons, who are represented by one lawyer. The case is currently pending at the Telangana High Court, after the state or opposite parties appealed against the Waqf Tribunal’s order staying the work. Justice MS Ramachandra Rao is believed to be hearing the case.

One of the petitioners is one Mohd. Jaferuddin, who had tried to bury a dead body in the Qutb Shahi tombs premises in 2016, in complete violation of the laws. A report then in The Hindu stated that Jaferuddin made an attempt to bury a deceased family member, which essentially amounted to encroachment, as one is not allowed to do such a thing on a historical site. The attempt was in complete contravention of laws, according to the report.

In the present case, names of all the petitioners are: Mohd Jaferuddin, Mohammed Abul Khader, Mirza Jameel Ahmed, Mohammed Irfan, Mohammed Sarwar, Mohammed Naser (died) and Habeeb Mohiuddin. All are reportedly residents of the Golconda fort area. Jaferuddin (and others) in fact is involved over 40 court cases, the first of which was filed in 2007 (details of which are with Siasat.com).

According to the petitioners, who have questioned the AKTC’s expertise, the current work on the interpretation centre allegedly damaged graves in the Deccan Heritage Park area, and that it will change nature of the Waqf site, among many other complaints. One of the petition also questions the validity of the agreement that the AKTC signed with the state government to undertake the works.

However, while what is being done is right or wrong will be rightly decided by the courts, the allegation that the work on the interpretation centre is damaging the site is ironical to say the least, given that the AKTC has in fact saved many of the monuments inside the Qutb Shahi tombs from collapse and destruction. One of those structures is the Badi Baoli, a portion of which had collapsed in the Qutb Shahi tombs nearly a decade ago. The entire structure has since been fixed, and restored.

In fact, the AKTC even won the UNESCO Asia/Pacific award for Excellence in 2020 for its restoration work. It has also restored the Bagh-e-Babur (Afghanistan), Humayun’s tomb in Delhi and most recently the coveted Sunder Nursery in the national capital, for which it has won laurels. The AKTC has a whole panel of experts, some of whom have international experience. And what expertise do the petitioners have to put up objections?

It is in this background that the whole petition on the interpretation centre by the petitioners raises questions. When Siasat.com reached out to the lawyer for a comment first, he was unreachable. On contacting him again on the matter, he refused to speak, saying that the issue is sub-judice.

An official, who did not want to be quoted, said that the petitioners are daily-wage workers, or run small businesses, and are not architecture or archaeological experts. One can question the nature of work. Generally it is done by experts in similar fields.

It may be noted that the work undertaken by AKTC resulted in not even a single structure inside the complex being damaged last year during heavy rainfall in October. One can only hope that the Telangana High Court takes all facts into considerations, before finally giving its judgement, said heritage activists. They added that they were hopeful of the right decision being taken.

“We hope the Telangana High Court, which saved Irrum Manzil, at least appoints a panel of experts and not lawyers on it. At least a panel of IAS officers and experts in conservation can be appointed, if at all needed. The Chief Justice of the High Court court has already set up a panel of experts for other purposes. They can even go and give a report on the issue,” ådded the heritage activist from the city.

Interpretation Centre planned at Qutb Shahi Tombs
One of the many tombs inside the Qutb Shahi tombs complex during restoration. (Photo: Siasat)

History of Qutb Shahi/Golconda dynasty

Sultan Quli, founded the kingdom with Golconda fort as its capital in 1518, following the death of last sovereign Bahamani (1347-1518) emperor Mahmud Shah Bahamani, under whom the former had worked as the governor of Telangana.

Sultan Quli, who was originally from Hamadan, and two of his sons (among others) who went on to become the second and third kings, developed the fort into into a walled-city between 1518 and 1580. Hyderabad was built in 1591 by Mohd Quli Qutb Shah, the founder’s grandson, after he decided to move out of the walled-city.

The fort has 87 bastions, and eight gates, of which a few are not accessible to the general public as they are under army control. It is believed to be one of the Deccan’s most impregnable forts, and had kept Mughal emperor Aurangzeb’s army at bay for eight months when he laid siege to Hyderabad in 1687. The Charminar, built in 1591, is Hyderabad’s foundational monument.

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