Friday, October 3, 2008

Harinawas: From torture chamber to luxury state guest house

Presidential suites, seven star facilities, CM residence, and much more   

Naseer A Ganai 

Srinagar, October 3: In the mid 90s the name Hariniwas meant death and torture. People had given up associating this palace of Dogra Maharajas with royalty. Kashmiri youth who took up arms against Indian state and were interrogated in Hariniwas narrated harrowing tales of torture--electric shocks to genitals, big logs rolled over legs, sticks smeared with chilies thrust into anus, thrashing buttocks with bamboo sticks till they turned purple, and other third degree methods. For a militant, or a civilian arrested on suspicion, coming out alive of that palace was a rebirth. While its bloody recent past would leave its imprints for a long time to come, it is now the State’s guesthouse for important personalities, and also as the official residence of the Chief Minister.
In its reincarnation it has three presidential suites, VVIP guesthouse and scores of bedrooms. The palace was built by Maharaja Hari Singh for his wife Tara Devi. He constructed the palace at the place despite being told by priests that the area has been the abode of Hindu goddess Shiksha Devi. He was told that the construction of palace at this place would not be auspicious. “But he didn’t pay heed to these warnings,” says historian Fida Hasnian. 
Hari Singh constructed the palace for Maharani Tara Devi after purchasing land and trees from the residents of the area. The construction was completed and with it Tara Devi started residing in it. But the tumultuous events of 1947 ensued and Maharaja had to flee Kashmir. And he never returned. After 1947 the building was never put to any “good use”, says an official.
The officials of Department of Archives and Archeology say that the building was purchased by Kashmir Hotel Limited for Rs 43 lakhs in 1980s. They had a plan to convert the building into a hotel but the plan didn’t mature, the officials said. The Government later purchased the building again and it was used by the CID department after 1985. Since 1990 when armed insurgency backed by mass uprising started in Kashmir, it was used as torture chamber. 
The National Conference came to power in 1996. It mooted a proposal that the building be used for a Museum. The proposal however was shelved when Peoples Democratic Party led government took over in 2002. And when the Ghulam Nabi Azad took over as chief minister in 2005 he renovated the building. Sources said Rs 10 crores were used for the renovation of the building but the officials insist that only Rs 4 to 5 crore were utilized.
It is a sprawling building built over 70 kanals of land. It has a guesthouse and seven star facilities. The building has three Presidential suites.  
As the building serve as the residential office of the Chief Minister it has waiting hall for those who want to meet the Chief Minister and office for the Chief Minister’s secretariat. The official residence of the Chief Minister also include a cabinet room to hold meetings and deliberations. The Chief Minister’s official residence has four master bedrooms besides couple of other bedrooms as well. It has also formal and informal drawing rooms, a dining hall and a lobby.
Sources said that the no hotel in the State is fit enough for hosting the president of India or any other place. “But the building has been renovated in a manner that any State guest can stay here and he would not find it lacking in facilities or prestige,” he added. However, the old style has been maintained. Even antique taps have been brought to maintain the royal aura.  
The former Chief Minister himself used look after the landscaping. The Floriculture Department has introduced some rare species of the plants and flowers. The officials insist that the renovation of the building has been done in accordance with the High Court directions. “It is fact the area falls under the green belt and the building too comes under restricted area. So the High Court orders have been followed in letter and spirit,” said the official. However the former chief minister who renovated the building could not stay here for long. After staying in the building for nearly three months, his government fell and he had to leave the building. 

Renovated and abandoned 

When Dr Farooq took over as Chief Minister in 2002, he constructed in green belt area a building that would be chief minister’s residence. It was adjacent to Harinawas. Fifty percent of the construction work was completed when a writ petition was filed in the High Court against the constructions in the greenbelt. The High Court found that the construction of the building was against the norms. The High Court stayed the construction. Then came the Mufti Muhammad Sayeed in 2002 as chief minister. He renovated a building, which was once residence of Prime Minister Ghulam Muhammad Bakshi, at Poloview. Some Rs 5 crores were used for its renovation. And a bulletproof glass room was also constructed. And when Mufti handed over power to Ghulam Nabi Azad, the latter preferred to renovate another building for chief minister’s residence at Harinawas. 
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