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All the President’s Pests

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Animals and snakes are residents of the President’s southern retreat in Secunderabad

How do you prepare a house for a visit by the Indian President? With a pair of snake charmers and a team of animal catchers working in shifts round-the-clock. The house in question is the Rashtrapathi Nilayam, the President’s southern retreat in the Secunderabad Cantonment area of Andhra Pradesh.

Since the palatial mansion and its sweeping outdoors is abandoned most of the year, officials, on condition of anonymity, say that lizards, snakes, scorpions, monkeys and pigs have made it their home. The staff remember that in the year 2000, when the then President KR Narayanan visited, four snakes had been found on the premises.

When Pratibha Patil was in the Andhra Pradesh capital this week, the Central Public Works Department and the state government went on overdrive to make the place tidy and pest free. Snake charmers, monkey catchers and staff were deployed to collar, among others, pigs and scorpions. Animal experts from Nehru Zoological Park and Gardens in Hyderabad combed the place to ensure there was no protocol lapse by animals.

Apart from these creatures, the building is also known for spirits. CPWD officials privately admit that there are ghosts here from the British era. So, rituals to ward off evil are also conducted whenever citizen number 1 arrives.

Constructed in 1860 for the British Regent on a 90-acre plot, the mansion is set on the sprawling grounds of Trimulgherry Fort, which was completed in 1867. The Nizam, the then ruler of the princely state of Hyderabad, had given the British the right to set up camp on the outskirts of Hyderabad. It became  what is now the Secunderabad cantonment area of the twin cities. The fort housed the British arsenal, barracks, messes and stables.

In view of the ongoing Telangana agitation, tight security arrangements were made in and around Rashtrapathi Nilayam when Patil came visiting. Special snake-free perimeters were set up in and around the block occupied by the President and her family members. Patil, in fact, might have to deal with far fewer pests than Narayanan. Ever since portions of the premises were thrown open to the public, the number of rat-snakes that infested the area has come down.