About a dozen snake charmers, who are doubling up as snake catchers, are guarding President Pranab Mukherjee during his two-week long stay in Hyderabad. Mukherjee is staying at the Rashtrapati Nilayam at Bolarum in the Secunderabad cantonment area from 18 to 31 December, as part of his annual southern sojourn.
The palatial residence of the first citizen is well guarded from any external security threats as it is located 25 km from the city outskirts, but the President’s bodyguards, who take care of his personal security, are haunted by the large presence of snakes that populate this area. Some of the snakes that mostly rest in the rooms of the Rashtrapati Nilayam are poisonous, including cobras.
The biggest challenge before the Telangana government (earlier Andhra Pradesh government), which takes care of the President’s overall security is to ensure that the Rashtrapati Nilayam is snake free. Every year, the General Administration Department (GAD), which looks after the presidential sojourns, spends lakhs of rupees on snake charmers who catch the reptiles during the VVIP’s visits.
Accordingly, GAD has deployed a dozen snake charmers to catch the snakes from the first week of November. Sources said that so far they had caught over 100 snakes, including king cobras. “We were horrified to catch two big cobras, each about 9 feet long, inside the presidential palace. These snake charmers are veterans in their field,” an official in the GAD told The Sunday Guardian on the condition of anonymity.
These snake catchers are inducted into the presidential security team and are on the job until the President leaves for New Delhi on 31 December. They are paid a lump sum amount, which is much more than what they would earn in two months, said the official while refusing to specify the amount.
Enquiries by The Sunday Guardian revealed that the entire activity of hiring these snake charmers is handled by a contractor, who also takes care of other allied tasks including ensuring that Rashtrapati Nilayam is out of bounds for stray dogs and mosquitoes. Sources said that the snake charmers who will stay at the palace are subjected to security check by both the presidential guards and the state police.
They will be routinely moving around in the 20-bedroom Rashtrapati Nilayam sprawled across 90 acres and will stay in one of the outhouses. Whenever the President’s staff notices any snake, the snake-charmers will catch these. All the caught snakes will be placed inside an enclosure provided by the Nehru Zoological Park in Hyderabad and later will be released in a forest area.
GAD officials in Hyderabad have been forced to pay more attention to the security at Rashtrapati Nilayam, especially after Mukherjee became the President three years ago. Mukherjee has developed such a liking for Hyderabad that he has been visiting his southern sojourn twice a year, summer and winter, although most of his predecessors paid only one annual visit.
Though the Rashtrapati Nilayam is no match to the Rashtrapati Bhawan in New Delhi in size and grandeur, Mukherjee is stated to be mesmerised by the five-acre herbal garden in Secunderabad. He prefers to walk in the medicinal garden which has plants of geranium, lemon grass and other rare spices and exotic flowers. This garden is thrown open to the public since 2009, but more visitors are allowed since 2012.
Rashtrapati Nilayam is older (built in 1860 by the Nizams) than Rashtrapati Bhawan in Delhi (built in 1916).
In fact, it was Mukherjee’s idea to allow the public into the garden to satisfy people from faraway areas like Maharashtra and Karnataka visiting here and to ensure that snakes are kept away from the building which is mostly closed when the President is not here. “We are happy that the President likes our Hyderabad,” Telangana Home Minister N. Narasimha Reddy told this paper on Friday.