Lamenting the loss of built heritage in the state in the past several decades, Bihar Finance Minister Abdul Bari Siddiqui has suggested saving historical buildings, including the Dutch-era Collectorate in the state capital and linking such structures with culture and tourism instead of dismantling them.
“Even till late 60s, Patna was a beautiful city with old buildings — from government bungalows to private houses. kothis and mansions — dotting its streets, adding to the charm. Unfortunately, with the passage of time, we lost so many of them including the iconic Dak Bungalow. The real estate explosion and rapid urbanisation has dealt a severe blow to the city’s heritage,” he said.
In the absence of a holistic preservation policy, several heritage properties in Patna are fighting a losing battle against modernity, giving way to high-rise buildings. The latest to face this is the city’s century-old Collectorate, spanning Dutch and British history of the capital.
“I am of the view that old, historical buildings should be preserved for posterity. And the Collectorate carries within its walls Dutch and British history, besides being specimens of unique architecture of those eras. Buildings like these should not be demolished but rather adaptively reused and linked with cultural activities and boosting heritage tourism and economy of Bihar.
“That way, we get to keep our past, generate revenues and move towards the future. It’s a win-win situation and that way heritage buildings will become an asset rather than a liability they are generally seen as in the absence of upkeep,” Siddiqui told PTI in an interview.
The 59-year-old state finance minister, who hails from the heritage city of Darbhanga, says, in Europe and the US, heritage tourism is a huge draw and a steady source of revenue, and Patna and rest of Bihar have the potential to adopt the same.
“After Independence, the successive state governments never really came up with any holistic policy for the city’s heritage buildings, public or private, as a result, they kept disappearing one after another, as they were neither protected centrally or under the state archaeology department,” he said.
There are about 70 sites in Bihar protected under the Archaeological Survey of India (Patna Circle), out of which 11 are in Patna, which includes two heritage buildings – the tombs of Shah Makhadum Daulat Maneri and Ibrahim Khan in Maner and Mir Ashraf Mosque in old Patna, endowed with arched octagonal sunken fountain.
Nearly 30 sites are protected in Bihar under the state archaeology including 1786-built Golghar, Begu Hajjam’s Mosque, and colonial-era Morrison Building (added recently to the list) in Patna.
Historic Civil Surgeon Bungalow, City SP Bungalow, District and Session Judge Bungalow, at Gandhi Maidan were dismantled in 2014 to make way for an international convention centre, construction of which is underway. Six heritage bungalows on Bailey Road were demolished in 2013 for a world-class Bihar Museum.
“Like the Dak Bungalow, only the legend of which has survived, many heritage buildings lining Fraser Road – Indian Nation building, Hasan Manzil, PTI Building, Bankipore Central Jail, have lost battle to concrete or are in a state of decay. If these buildings would have survived and been well-maintained, tourists would have come just to see them,” Siddiqui said.
Lamenting the fate of the buildings which have missed the wrecking ball, Siddiqui said, “Many of these are now in shabby condition and eclipsed by high-rises which replaced their once fabulous gardens.”
The legendary Sikander Manzil on Fraser Road where Mahatma Gandhi had briefly stayed on way to Champaran in April 1917, is now obscured by a mutli-storied building that towers above the beautiful house, now all faded and forgotten.
“I have requested the Bihar government several times to at least put a memorial plaque outside the house to commemorate Gandhi’s historic visit, but to no avail,” noted historian Surendra Gopal rued.
Even the Patna Collectorate’s Dutch-era Record Room and British-period DM Office were featured in Oscar-winning film “Gandhi”. But, hardly anyone in the city knows about it and the government seems oblivious to it instead of enchasing on the “Gandhi” connection.
After public outcry against the proposed dismantling of the Collectorate for redevelopment, and appeals sent to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar from Dutch Ambassador in India, heritage body INTACH, Bihar government, had constituted an ad hoc committee to seek the opinions of archaeologists and experts before taking a final call.
“After the committee’s meet, the Chief Secretary has been apprised by the experts of the historical value of the Collectorate and the need for its preservation as an important signpost of history, both socio-cultural as well as architectural,” a source said.
Incidentally, the Collectorate was listed as heritage building in a 2008 government publication ‘Patna: A Monumental History’ brought out by the Art, Culture and Youth Department. Siddiqui, further ruing the loss of built heritage of Patna, recalls, “What you see as the Maurya Hotel today was the residence of the vice-chancellor of Patna University, an old-style tiled-roof bungalow. Beside it, was a nice bungalow of a doctor that was replaced by the Youth Hostel.”
“The old buildings and old charm disappeared along with the ‘coffee houses’ that once epitomised the cultural and intellectual playground of Patna. The Collectorate and other surviving heritage buildings should be preserved and reused as cultural spaces like museums, art galleries, heritage restaurants and cafes or venues for performing art or film festivals.
“Celebrating them by restoring them first to their original glory as done in other parts of India and abroad, and then showcasing them to local residents and domestic and foreign tourists would not only rekindle the interest in forgotten heritage, but also instil a sense of pride and ownership among people of Bihar,” he said.
Sources said a proposal was made few years ago to relocate the Collectorate at Phulwari Sharif in a new modern complex, but could not be brought to fruition.
Gopal says, “The Collectorate can move back in after its complete restoration. But, the buildings must be restored first as they have been shabbily kept for decades.”
“Complementary structures can be added beside the existing ones for expansion but I believe a new Collectorate should be built in an open space elsewhere. A place like this Dutch-era Collectorate, with high ceilings and hanging skylights, should become a venue for cultural celebrations and recreational pleasure. And its location on the banks of Ganga makes it an ideal proposition,” he said.