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Nyaymandir, a 125-year-old imperial court in Vadodara, cries for justice

🔴 Designed by British architect Robert Chisholm, the iconic structure served as the Supreme Court of the erstwhile Baroda state and later functioned as a district court till 2018. Today, many fear that delay in turning the building into a heritage museum may spell ruin for the historic structure.

The building, which eventually housed the district court, was vacated three years ago and in January this year it was handed over to the Roads and Buildings Department by the Law Department. (Express photo by Bhupendra Rana)

On November 30, Nyaymandir or the Temple of Justice in Vadodara will complete 125 years since its inauguration. Designed by renowned British architect Robert Chisholm, the iconic building served as an imperial court in the erstwhile Baroda state ruled by the Gaekwads and later functioned as a district court till as recently as 2018.

Among the most historic moments that took place at the building is the final speech made by Pratapsinhrao Gaekwad, the Maharaja of Baroda, before acceding to the Indian Union in 1947. Originally named the Chimnabai Nyay Mandir – after the first wife of Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III – at the time of its inauguration by Viceroy Lord Elgin in 1896, the structure was initially meant to be a two-storeyed vegetable market in the centre of the city. On seeing the grandeur of the structure, however, the Maharaja changed his mind and turned it into a town hall and court. The vegetable market in Vadodara, which also houses the VMC offices, is another grand piece by Chisholm in the Indo-Saracenic style.

Built at a cost of Rs 7 lakh, the Nyaymandir’s central hall, adorned with distinct mosaic work, also has a statue of Maharani Chimnabai by Italian sculptor Augusto Felici. Pre-Independence, when Gaekwad ruled the erstwhile royal state of Baroda, the building served as the Supreme Court of the state. According to historians, Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III had laid down a rule that the Nyaymandir would have to dispose of each case within 360 days in order to deliver “undeniable justice”.

Nyaymandir or the Temple of Justice in Vadodara. (Express photo by Bhupendra Rana)

The building, which eventually housed the district court, was vacated three years ago and in January this year it was handed over to the Roads and Buildings Department by the Law Department, after which the 80,000 sq ft structure has been awaiting a decision on its future.

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In June 2015, the then district collector had backed a proposal from the Vadodara Municipal Corporation (VMC) to the Road and Buildings Department, seeking handover of the building to turn it into a heritage museum. The state Tourism Department also proposed to protect it as a heritage site. In July that year, the VMC Commissioner sought powers from the Standing Committee of the municipal corporation to acquire Nyaymandir and establish a city museum, which was approved.

Nyaymandir or the Temple of Justice in Vadodara. (Express photo by Bhupendra Rana)

Municipal Commissioner Shalini Agarwal, who was the Vadodara district collector when the building was handed over, told The Indian Express that the civic body is awaiting government clearance to take possession of the premises. “The VMC has already expressed interest in taking over possession and the request is pending before the state government. Once the clearance is received, we will be able to take a further call on what best can be done for the structure to be opened to people and to preserve it,” Agarwal said.

In the absence of laws, local residents have been ruing the loss that the city’s heritage has already faced. Haresh Shah (68), who resides in a by-lane near Nyaymandir, says, “We have seen the Nyaymandir in its full glory… Over the years, as commercialisation took over, the structure suffered so much damage that went unnoticed. Now, as we pass by the unoccupied building, we often wonder if we will lose the monument to neglect like we have lost many others. Why can’t it be turned into a multipurpose centre for citizens? Right now, only street dwellers are occupying the pavements at night.”

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Chandrashekhar Patil of Nav Chetna Trust says that in the early 1900s, a tram pulled by horses used to run from the existing Clock Tower in Raopura to Nyaymandir. A ticket window was located outside the structure, behind the Chimnabai Hall, to allow litigants to purchase bus and tram tickets. Until 1985, the Chimnabai Hall hosted cultural programmes, art exhibitions, mass weddings and community events, many of which were attended by Maharaja Sayajirao III.

Nyaymandir or the Temple of Justice in Vadodara. (Express photo by Bhupendra Rana)

Senior advocate and Additional Standing Counsel to the Government of India, Kamal Pandya, who had practiced as a lawyer in Nyaymandir since 1980, feels the building can best be used for a city museum. Pandya told The Indian Express, “I have seen every nook and corner of the building. Even today, the Italian marble used inside is as good as new and one can even slip on the floor if not careful. The structure has a rich story of its own and would make for a perfect city museum to showcase the modern history of Vadodara. The departments must set aside any difference of opinion and even politics to attend to the structure before it is reduced to ruins. The building should be given heritage status immediately.”

The lack of heritage status for the city’s most prominent architectural landmarks has been the biggest hurdle in their preservation. In 2014, the snow-white Nazarbaug Palace in Mandvi was brought down by its owners – Sangramsinh Gaekwad and his family – to make way for a sprawling mall. Vadodara was home to four grand palaces, of which three remain, the Lukshmivilas Palace is home to the family of its titular head Samarjitsinh Gaekwad, the Lalbaug Palace houses the National Academy of Indian Railways, and the Makarpura Palace was handed over to the Indian Air force.

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In an attempt to save the 19th century Nazarbaug Palace, heritage conservationists had moved a PIL in the Gujarat High Court in May 2014. A team of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cutural Heritage (INTACH), Gujarat, and Indian Institute of Architects (IIA), Baroda and Gujarat, had contended that the palace was a “deemed Grade I heritage building”. The experts cited a March 2014 report prepared by INTACH, at the insistence of Sangramsinh Gaekwad’s family, in which the trust had recommended restoring the Nazarbaug Palace.

In a last-ditch effort, the court had directed the state government to file an affidavit explaining why a Heritage Conservation Committee had not been formed to protect sites from going through the same fate. The committee is yet to be formed.

First published on: 27-11-2021 at 07:26:38 pm
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