Large portion of Dutch-era District Engineer's Office Building in Patna demolished
Bulldozers on Sunday dismantled a large portion of the historic District Engineer's Office Building in Patna, on a day a group of citizens gathered in the city to discuss ways to save the threatened Sultan Palace and other heritage buildings from demolition in future.
The irony of the situation could not have been more pronounced as the demolition took place in the centuries-old Patna Collectorate campus while the meeting of heritage lovers happened in a building near the now-razed landmark, close to the iconic Gandhi Maidan.
''A large portion of the old District Engineer's Office Building was today demolished with bulldozers, which clawed down the historic structure starting from its eastern portion. I have seen this building since my childhood days, as our small house was just behind it, which also was razed along with other structures of the settlement on the Ganga river bank recently for making a new collectorate complex,'' said a young local resident, on the condition of anonymity.
He claimed that his grandfather had worked in the District Board Patna, and since then the family had settled in the area located behind the District Engineer's Office Building, and lamented that ''we and so many other families have been uprooted'' due to the redevelopment project.
The sturdy District Engineer's Office Building, said to have been built in the Dutch era, which originally stood as a single-storey elongated structure facing the Ganga with cavernous rooms, high ceilings and hanging skylights. Few structures were added on the roof to create extra space for offices, sometime in the last hundred years, according to architecture experts.
Patna was a key trading post over three centuries ago, and the Dutch East India Company had built several structures on the banks of Ganga. The site, from 1857 onwards began being used as the Patna Collectorate by the British, who later owned Dutch-built structures after the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824.
District Board Patna as an institution was set up in 1886. District Engineer of the Board used to sit in this old building, lending it its name. A beautiful vintage ceramic plate is also embedded on the top of the southern facade of the District Engineer's Office Building.
On May 13 this year, Supreme Court had rejected a plea by heritage body INTACH, which was fighting a legal battle since 2019 to save the landmark from demolition, paving the way for the demolition of the Patna Collectorate complex, triggering grief among heritage lovers in India and abroad.
Demolition had started the very next day, and 1938-built District Board Patna Building was the first to receive the blows of the bulldozers. The historic structure, located next to the District Engineer's Office Building, and endowed with ornamental pilaster Corinthian columns in its iconic Meeting Hall, was pulled down by May 17, as also the centuries-old Land Requisition Office Building in the sprawling 12-acre complex.
Dutch-era Record Room Building, which had high ceilings, massive doors and very old and unique skylights on roof, was also razed on May 17. A very small portion on the frontage has been spared so far, as the Record Room office is still occupying it.
Distressed over a ''wave of demolition'' of heritage buildings in the last 10-12 years in Patna, the latest being the historic centuries-old Patna Collectorate, a group of citizens, from different walks of life, on Sunday met to discuss ways to ''reverse this trend'' with a hope that no other heritage buildings will meet this fate in future, said Patna native and reserarch scholar Pushkar Raj, who attended the meet.
The participants, men and women, young and old, students and professionals, also included members of the Save Historic Patna Collectorate, a citizen-led initiative that fought for six years to save Collectorate, soon after its demolition was announced by the government in 2016.
They also pledged to work together to raise awareness and appeal to the Bihar government to spare the demolition of the 100-year-old Sultan Palace in the heart of the city, for a swanky five-star hotel, a decision recently taken by the state government.
''Whatever is happening is Patna, when it comes to matter related to unprotected heritage buildings is tragic, particularly the case of Patna Collectorate. One by one government has demolished them in the name of development. And, the irony is that today demolition began on the historic District Engineer's Office Building, and it happened on a day we met to discuss ways to preserve our fast vanishing built heritage in Patna,'' Raj rued.
''The government has enough space now, it could have retained this building as it was located in a corner of the Collectorate campus, and reused it as a cafe or museum or something, and that way new and old would have co-existed. History is not just to kept in books, we need to touch and feel it,'' he said.
After the meeting, a group of heritage lovers, visited the site of demolished Patna Collectorate and renewed their resolve to save Sultan Palace and other old buildings from the wrecking ball through public advocacy and campaigns. Historic British-era Patna District Magistrate's office building, which was also part of the Collectorate campus, and featured in key scenes in Oscar-winning film ''Gandhi'' was demolished about a week ago, symbolically bringing an era to an end.
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