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Demolished Brick By Brick, Patna Collectorate Lives On In Their Memories

The date May 14, 2022 is indelibly seared into the memory of young architect Diptanshu Sinha when he saw the metallic claws of bulldozers raining the first blows on an iconic building of Patna Collectorate.

City News
| Written By
Press Trust Of India

Image: PTI

The date May 14, 2022 is indelibly seared into the memory of young architect Diptanshu Sinha when he saw the metallic claws of bulldozers raining the first blows on an iconic building of Patna Collectorate.

By May 17 last year, the British-era District Board Patna building famed for its pilaster Corinthian columns in the hall, had been razed into oblivion, while the Dutch-era Record Room building, barring a small frontage, was pounded into a mountain of debris.

In a few months, the cluster of historic buildings, endowed with high ceilings, massive doors, magnificent pillars, and carrying centuries of history within its walls, were flattened to make way for a new Collectorate complex.

The demolition of the Patna Collectorate which also featured in some of the key scenes of the Oscar-winning film "Gandhi", triggered a wave of grief among heritage lovers and Gandhians in India and abroad, and a year on the wounds still fester in the minds of many of who fought to save the landmark.

"Barely a day had not even passed since the Supreme Court had rejected the INTACH's petition, and bulldozers had rolled into the campus of the centuries-old Collectorate, and dismantling began. Those who cared for this piece of history, were not even given time to say goodbye to it. When it was being torn down, I felt sad, weak and guilty," Sinha rued.

"Even after a year, I am unable to get the sound and sight of those demolition machines out of my mind. I will never forget that day," the 26-year-old architect lamented.

Sinha and several other Patna natives, living in India and abroad, and like-minded people from other countries, were part of a citizen-led movement 'Save Historic Patna Collectorate' that fought from 2016 onwards to save this "signpost of history".

The Supreme Court on May 13 last year rejected a plea by heritage body INTACH to save the centuries-old landmark, paving the way for its demolition.

The cluster of buildings, with the Dutch-era Record Room being the centrepiece in the 12-acre Patna Collectorate campus were razed in phases, the last demolition taking place in late December.

Bina Mishra, 70, who worked at the Patna Collectorate in the 80s as a deputy collector in charge of the District Record Room, says, Patna has been "robbed of its jewel" by demolition of the collectorate.

"I joined the Patna Collectorate office as a probationer in 1981, and even the old documents, some which are 200-300 years old, which were housed in the old Record Room were a veritable treasure. As a deputy collector in charge of it, we had got new racks and cabinets in those days for safekeeping of maps and 'khatihans' (revenue records)," she told PTI.

Patna-born Mishra said the record room was a "beautiful building which future generations should have seen". Besides the pillars on its facade, the elongated Dutch-era structure had huge free standing pillars inside the room, and the building should have been restored and not demolished, she said, adding it was a "gross mistake" to demolish the old Collectorate.

"Even though I left Patna for Ranchi, after my marriage in 1985, my roots are there, and every time I only read about or hear one heritage building or the other of my city going down for 'vikas'. The beautiful century-old Sultan Palace is now also facing demolition. Patna needs to wise up, both policy-makers and the masses," said Mishra, who recently shifted to Delhi.

Patna Collectorate -- the headquarters of the district administration -- is now getting a new avatar, and work is going on in full swing to build a new multi-storey collectorate complex on the banks of Ganga, and it is expected to be completed in two years.

Among other key heritage structures lost in the Collectorate demolition include the British-era DM Office Building, Dutch-era District Engineer's Office Building, SDO Office Building and Land Requisition Office Building.

Eight pillars from the facade of the now-demolished Record Room building were salvaged in compliance with the Patna High Court order of 2020 which had asked to not bulldoze the pillars of the Collectorate.

The district administration has planned to "suitably display the preserved pillars” in the upcoming complex, a senior official said.

Several historians, scholars, conservation architects, Gandhians and ordinary citizens have expressed their anguish over the demolition of the historic Patna Collectorate, and urged that "proactive steps" be taken so that no other public landmark in Patna should meet this "cruel fate".

Bharati Kumar, former head of the Patna University’s History Department, who had opposed the demolition of the Collectorate, lamented that "heritage buildings in Patna are either being demolished in the name of development or not properly maintained out of institutional neglect”.

Ironically, the Patna Collectorate is still mentioned as a cultural site on the official website of Bihar Tourism, along with an aerial photograph of the DM Office Building, which along with the Record Room building featured in "Gandhi" (1982).

Also, the Patna Collectorate, among other sites, are listed as heritage buildings in the 2008 Bihar government publication “Patna: A Monumental History”.

Mumbai-based conservation architect Abha Narain Lambah, who has worked on conservation projects in many cities, some of which have won UNESCO awards, said demolition of old buildings “denudes the character” of historic cities.

“Demolition of old buildings leads to erasing tangible heritage and collective memories of a city. Patna should act wisely when it comes to its heritage buildings,” Lambah told PTI.

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