Srinagar, Dec 1: Hari Niwas in Hindi means 'God's Home' but in the mid 90s the name Hari Niwas 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 Hari Niwas narrated harrowing tales of torture 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 being spruced up as the State's guesthouse for important personalities, and also as the official residence of the Chief Minister.
In its reincarnation it would have 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 80s. 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.
During the National Conference regime, a proposal was mooted that the building would be used for a Museum. The proposal, however was shelved when Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) led government took over. And when Ghulam Nabi Azad took over as chief minister, 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 would also 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 would 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 no hotel in the State is of a standard that could host the President of India or any other important dignitary. "But the building has been renovated in a manner that any State guest can stay here and he or she 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 Chief Minister, sources said, has himself looked after the landscaping. The Floriculture Department would introduce 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.
Renovated and abandoned
When Dr Farooq took over as Chief Minister, he constructed in Green Belt a building that would be chief minister's residence. It was adjacent to Hari Niwas. Fifty percent of the construction work was completed when a writ petition was filed in the High Court against the constructions in the Green Belt. The High Court found that the construction of the building was against the norms. The High Court stayed the construction. Then came Mufti Muhammad Sayeed. He renovated a building, which was once residence of Prime Minister Ghulam Muhammad Bakshi, at Poloview. Some Rs 5 crores were used for the 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 Hari Niwas. Now it has to be seen whether Azad would use it for the residence or use the building as replacement of Nehru guesthouse.