2020: From Patna to Ahmedabad, heritage faced demolition; citizens opposed

Kunal Dutt
·4-min read

New Delhi, Jan 5 (PTI) The outbreak of COVID-19 spelt doom for humans in the year gone by, but 2020 did not prove kind to heritage buildings either in some of the cities across the country, even as sensitive citizenry fought hard to save the architectural legacy from the wrecking ball.

From Patna to Ahmedabad, from Dutch-era historic structures to modern marvels, built heritage in these cities did not breathe easy.

The redevelopment of Central Vista in the heart of Lutyens' Delhi also irked heritage lovers in 2020, who had been demanding from the government to tread that heritage architectural and natural spaces cautiously and not 'obscure' the past to build future projects.

Foundation stone of the new Parliament House that will come up next to the old one, built in 1920s, was laid by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in December.

In the same month, some of the major structures of the iconic Louis Kahn Plaza that visually symbolises the campus of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIMA), came under the threat of demolition.

The institute had decided to demolish 14 of its dormitories designed by the renowned American architect, saying these dormitories have suffered damages beyond repairs over the years, due to various reasons including 2001 earthquake and water seepages.

But the decision met with stiff opposition, from the IIMA alumni, architect community and children of Kahn, following which it decided to withdraw its proposal, bringing cheers among history and architecture lovers on the New Year who hope 2021 will be kinder on heritage.

Battle to save the historic Patna Collectorate kept courts busy in pandemic, and people on tenterhooks throughout the year.

The legal battle to save the Dutch-era landmark from demolition, which had started in the Patna High Court, came to a halt on September 2020, leaving the heritage buildings in the campus vulnerable again to demolition, as the court disposed of the case and allowed the government to take 'necessary consequential action'.

Delhi-based Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) had taken the Bihar government to court in August 2019 seeking preservation of the Collectorate, and constitution of Bihar Urban Arts and Heritage Commission, which had been pending since 2012.

The matter had gone to the court of Chief Justice Sanjay Karol in early 2020, who had first heard the matter on January 31, and said, 'we are not inclined to modify the interim order dated September 25 passed by this court in the connected writ petition,' while directing that 'the Collectorate building be not demolished till the next date of hearing'.

The next hearing came up on March 5 and after a brief hearing, it was listed again for March 17.

However, by this time, the scare of COVID-19 had grown bigger and courts and public offices were ordered to be closed, with a provision that only urgent matters were to be heard.

In the light of the directions of the high court, the new heritage commission was set up.

Historians, preservationists and scholars expressed 'deep concern' over the commission, alleging that the panel has 'no representation' from conservation architects and other independent domain experts.

Meanwhile, in view of the lockdown, sensitive citizenry, concerned over the fate of this historic landmark, came together online and carried out a sustained campaign to build awareness among the people and convince the state government to rethink its decision.

'Save Historic Patna Collectorate' movement, which had started in 2016, son after the demolition was proposed to make way for a high-rise complex, conducted heritage walks and awareness drive till March 2020 and then took the campaign online during the lockdown induced by COVID-19, garnering support globally from over 20 countries.

However, on September 1, the case was disposed of, dealing a big blow to the people's movement for heritage preservation, following which INTACH too moved the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court, after an online hearing on September 18, ordered a stay on the demolition of the Patna Collectorate, two days after Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had laid the foundation stone for its new complex and a slew of other projects ahead of the state assembly polls.

The Collectorate is one of the last surviving signatures of Dutch architecture in the Bihar capital, especially the Record Room and the old District Engineer's Office. The DM Office Building and District Board Patna Building were constructed during the British-era in early 20th century. Some key scenes of Oscar-winning film 'Gandhi' was shot in the Record Room and DM Office.

'We were disheartened after the high court verdict, but the apex court gave a stay on demolition, and we pray, 2021 will bring hope for Collectorate and other threatened heritage buildings in the country,' said 86-year-old J K Lall, convener of INTACH Patna Chapter, which is at the forefront of the protracted legal battle to save Patna Collectorate. PTI KND ZMN