Osmania General Hospital: The journey of a masterpiece on the riverfront
DECCAN CHRONICLE | Dinesh C Sharma
The building of Osmania General Hospital (OGH) – now set to be razed – was conceived as a masterpiece on the Musi riverfront in princely Hyderabad.
The idea of developing a riverfront district was envisaged by Mokshgundam Visvesvaraya in his plan to rebuild Hyderabad after the devastating Musi flood of 1908. The plan was implemented progressively over the next two decades. Visvesvaraya proposed the riverfront be developed as the city’s civic centre on the lines of what he had seen in European cities.
As per the plan, the buildings of the Hyderabad High Court and the City High School were developed on the south bank of the river. Among the buildings damaged due to the floods on the north bank was the Afzalgunj Hospital. It was repaired and resumed its services but in 1915 the need to develop a new Civil General Hospital was felt to meet the growing medical needs of people.
Different sites were surveyed and officials zeroed in on the Gosha Mahal area for the purpose.The Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, however, rejected the ideas as he wanted the riverfront to be developed as suggested by Visvesvaraya. On September 18,1917, he issued a firman saying "Instead of constructing the general hospital at Gosha Mahal Kunta, it should be constructed at Afzalgunj but on the river bank and after completion it should be named Osmania General Hospital." He sanctioned an amount of Rs 3.5 lakh for acquiring necessary land, according to archival records accessed by the writer.
The southern river bank presented a slum-like picture with huts, mud houses and other semi-pucca structures as well as small temples, mazars and graveyards. Many of the houses were rebuilt haphazardly after the 1908 floods destroyed the area. The PWD acquired nearly 300 such buildings and razed them to make way for the new hospital. A total of 12.5 acres of land was acquired on the river bank excluding the land for developing the Afzal Shahi Road.
For designing the building, PWD hired the services of British architect Vincent J Eschwho had already designed the High Court and the City High School. His fee was fixed at Rs 30,000. Esch prepared the plan in consultation with Dr A Lancaster, who was the Director of Medical Services. It was approved by the Osmania Hospital Committee chaired by Sir Akbar Hydari and had Syed Mehdi Hasan Bilgrami, F E Gwyther, M Karamatulla and Mehr Ali Fazil among its members.
The three-storied main block designed in the Indo-Saracenic style had 17 domes of various sizes, of which nine appeared on the front of the façade, two at the two ends, two in the intermediate and five in the centre at different levels. The octogen below the largest dome had glazed windows. The top platform was constructed with rolled steel beams covered with cement concrete.
A park was developed along the hospital building to give it an exquisite look. "The proximity of an extensive public garden is a decided advantage to the Hospital as it presents a bright outlook to the patients and a refreshing walk to the invalids," a 1925 PWD report said.
Out of the four tenders received for the construction, the bid of Narotham Dass was selected. The fact that Dass had just constructed the High Court building across the river went in his favour. He signed the agreement on June 24, 1920.The initial plan was to cost Rs 18.5 lakh for the construction of the main building; nurses' and doctor’s quarters; gates, compound wall and servant quarters; fittings and furniture.
Meanwhile, Lt Col B Jeevan Singh succeeded Dr Lancaster as head of the medical services. He suggested the addition of Out Patient Dispensary, kitchen, mortuary etc. With this, the cost went up to Rs 21.22 lakh in 1923. Among the fittings was ‘an Electric Lift big enough to carry a stretcher.’ The hospital provided 468 beds spread over 18 wards, of which 36 were meant for paying patients.
After OGH came into existence, Afzalgunj Hospital ceased to exist and its building was transferred to the Hyderabad Medical School (later renamed Osmania Medical College). The Afzalgunj Hospital conducted the historic chloroform experiments in the late nineteenth century, resulting in two landmark Hyderabad Chloroform Commissions.
The construction of architectural marvels and palatial buildings to house utilities like schools, colleges, hospitals, revenue offices and courts was the norm in princely states like Baroda, Mysore, Travancore etc. Large buildings denoted status and power in princely India in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.The riverfront in Hyderabad was a part of this trend.
While inaugurating the High Court building, Mir Osman Ali Khan called stately buildings on the riverfront "ornaments to my capital." With the proposed demolition of OGH, Hyderabad is all set to lose one of its most precious ornaments.
[Dinesh C Sharma is a journalist and researcher based in New Delhi. His upcoming book is on the making of modern Hyderabad]