HYDERABAD: World across, monuments get the place they deserve. Where heritage is a priority, monuments and heritage precincts are showcased, tourists are encouraged to come visit and their trip is made into an experience they can cherish and share with others. In India, while some massive monuments did get that treatment, there are many others whose potential has not been exploited fully.
Charminar in Hyderabad is one such monument though it is unique, standing at crossroads, with people living around it, people dependent on it for livelihood as well as people visiting it, making its setting a ‘living heritage city’. Any intervention at the project cannot be comprehensive without factoring in the human engagement. The Charminar Pedestrianization Project (CPP), visualized 20 years ago in 1999, was finally given a boost in 2018 when the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation and Govt of Telangana have started execution of paving works and traffic controls and with these the overcrowded and congested Charminar area may get much-needed relief and fresh air to people, monuments and the city. But has the policy worked on the ground as it should? A team of architects and planners asked the relevant questions. What is the impact of the pedestrianization works taken up till now? What do people feel, want and need?
The findings of the Survey of Uses, Utilities and Users, conducted by a team led by the writer, a Conservation Architect, and Urban Planner Kalpana Raghavedra, have been released at a recent event organized on the theme of ‘Smart Design Interventions in the Heritage Precinct of Charminar’. These brief surveys were conducted in March 2019 with the intention of sharing peoples’ perspectives with the city administration and policy makers for planning and development of the area.
The Survey was conducted with 218 people, including six categories of user groups - visitors/tourists, shopkeepers, vendors, residents, guides and service providers. Different survey formats were designed for each of the User groups for collecting information and levels of satisfaction on different aspects of services, amenities including economics, daily activity patterns and transport modes. Making development projects an inclusive process is a mandate that is followed by developed nations, gauging the potential impact of the project on environment, economics as well as on people’s lives. It is important to get an idea of people’s views and perceived needs. Charminar is a high-usage zone, with people swarming over the area including floating as well as resident population. The Survey asked people for their opinions and suggestions on 11 different aspects of services and amenities, maintenance and management.
While the residents and shopkeepers in pedestrianised zone, being those who are most affected by the CPP expressed their dissatisfaction on many of the facilities, it is the informal vendors, visitors and the guides who seem to derive some positive benefit from the project.But, invariably, the respondents wanted improvements on a variety of things. The CPP has not provided transport access from drop points to their destinations by eco-friendly rickshaws or battery cars. There are no special facilities available for senior citizens and the physically challenged. Devotees to Mecca Masjid and patients to Unani hospital are said to be facing problems due to lack of barrier-free accessibility. Senior citizens are unhappy that they are forgotten in the mega project like the Charminar Pedestrianization, and the paving did not include pathways for movement of wheelchairs or slow-walkers with walking aids.
Road drainage is undermined by CPP, its real performance of the storm drainage in the paved areas will only be seen in monsoon months, since the CP Project paving was done only recently. Absence of seating and resting places is causing inconvenience to visitors and hawkers.
Pavements are occupied too. The fact that trees are dismally low on city’s priorities is no more glaringly evident than at Charminar and its precincts, and the lack of greenery is showing impact on the pedestrianization too. With people spending more time than before, hanging around the monument in the traffic-free areas, the absence of shade and the direct effect of heat and pollution are felt. More so for hawkers and vendors, who spend most of the time standing and roaming around.
Interestingly, the shopkeepers in the area are miffed with the pedestrianization since they believe it has to led to a radical increase in the number of vendors. They want that entry of more vendors should be controlled and vendor service areas to be restricted and defined.
Absence of urban design controls in the area is something that seasoned travellers point out. There are suggestions that to promote Hyderabad’s rich heritage, there should be better linking with other heritage and vernacular architecture standing in the lanes through heritage walks. There is no comprehensive experience as part of the project to acquaint visitors with Hyderabadi culture, crafts and cuisine. There was also a sense of alarm that there is no through security checking at the monument, a regular feature now at all important places. Also shocking is the fact that visitors have to share the public toilets with the innumerable hawkers, leading to their bad maintenance.
The project does not seem to have contributed to reduction in gender parity, something that became painfully evident through the survey. Very small percentage of vendors are women, and a slightly higher number of those working in shops. While the shoppers and tourists are mostly women, there are no women guides. It appears that women are restricted to the household industries in the back streets of the area.
The Study shows that there is need for a review of the war the CPP is implemented. Starting from better facilities to greenery, from gender sensitivity to facilitating senior citizens, from pollution controls to a more holistic tourist experience, with sensitively detailing design and incorporating peoples’ views and wants, a few corrections in the execution of the project may very well make Charminar a precinct of monumental experience.
The project does not seem to have contributed to reduction in gender parity, something that became painfully evident through the survey. Very small percentage of vendors are women, and a slightly higher number of those working in shops. While the shoppers and tourists are mostly women, there are no women guides
(The writer is a Hyderabad-based Conservation Architect-Urban Planner)