Bengal steps out of a legacy

On September 30,West Bengal is set to witness another transfer of power,in fact of the very seat of power.

Written by Sabyasachi Bandopadhyay | Kolkata | Published: August 20, 2013 1:47 am

On September 30,West Bengal is set to witness another transfer of power,in fact of the very seat of power. The government is moving out of Kolkata’s iconic Writers’ Buildings,now 237 years old,to a building in Howrah,from where it will run until the renovation of Writers’ is complete,an exercise expected to take five or six months.

As of now,no one is sure how many of the departments being shifted will return from Howrah. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is supposed to,along with the departments she heads.

Built by architect Thomas Lyon starting 1776,Writers’ was initially for accommodating babus or writers of the East India Company. Its libraries have documents from the early years of the Raj,some yet to be researched; the building has a tunnel that connects to the river Hooghly. No chief minister since Independence has ever had his office anywhere else.

The plan to decongest the building had been started by the Left Front. It now houses 27 of the government’s 58 departments,with the rest in various buildings in Kolkata and Salt Lake. Mamata will move the chief minister’s office and the departments under her — home,hill affairs,health and family welfare,land and land reforms,minority and madrasa affairs,information and culture,personnel and administrative reforms. The rest will shift either in full or in part to HRBC Building at Mandirtala,Howrah,starting October 1.

The Left Front government had built HRBC Building for a garment park,which never took off. It spans 1.27 lakh sq ft while Writers’ Buildings is 4 lakh sq ft.

“The plans are not yet final,” says a PWD official. “Departmental secretaries have been given the plan and the area that will be available to them at HRBC Building. They are planning accordingly.”

Writers’ sources say Mamata plans to open a museum for the public at one part of Writers’,and turn the remaining part into a state-of-the art office complex modelled on government complexes in Delhi.

The shift will involve a cost of about Rs 200 crore,at least in the initial stages. Mamata announced the decision a fortnight ago,saying,“Writers’ Buildings has become a tinderbox,and is not safe from a security viewpoint. These have to be fixed.”

The last 20 years have seen at least 20 fires. The biggest,in August 2008,destroyed files and furniture of three departments,including fire and emergency services. Last year saw a fire in the state DGP’s chamber,destroying files. A fire audit recommended an overhaul of electrical systems and installation of fire safety systems.

Though Writers’ hasn’t seen a major security breach,its size makes it a concern. At the Howrah building,close to a flyover,the government plans to install CCTV cameras while the police propose to suspend traffic whenever the CM crosses the flyover.

Tenders will be floated for the renovation while the PWD is handling the shift. Mamata has stressed each file should be intact.

The livelihood of a number of people depends on Writers’. “Will the government arrange for an alternative?” wonders Dhananjoy,who owns one of 33 food kiosks.

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