The royal family of Vadodara and the family-run Maharaja Fatesingh Museum Trust has issued an appeal to the residents of Vadodara to unite and protest the proposed construction of a multi-storey building in the historic Raja Baug garden overlooking the Pratap Vilas Palace by the Union Ministry of Railways.
The appeal, issued on Thursday by Rajmata Shubhanginiraje Gaekwad, Maharaja Samarjitsinh Gaekwad and his wife, Maharani Radhikaraje urged “all citizens of the city and the country to stand up against this decision”. The family, through the museum, also started an online signature campaign on Thursday to submit the same to the Ministry of Railways.
Pratap Vilas Palace, houses the Railway University, where the Railway Staff College is functioning since 1952. The palace, built in 1908 by the architect Charles F Stevens, son of FW Stevens who created Mumbai’s iconic Victoria Terminus, was named after the last ruler of Baroda state, Pratapsinhrao, and is a unique renaissance style building lined with Italian marble, with a copper dome as the centre piece.
The appeal says, “Disturbingly for the city of Vadodara and its Royal Family, a decision has been taken to construct a multi-storey building in the historic Raja Baug or the garden overlooking the majestic Pratap Vilas Palace. This is to accommodate the National Rail and Transportation Institute (NRTI) and other offices. The markings on the ground have begun but construction is yet to start. A new concrete construction right in front of this 106-year-old heritage palace will certainly destroy the facade, landscape, scale, beauty and history of this landmark of Vadodara.”
Standing on 55 acres of land, the palace was constructed by Maharaja Sayajirao III to serve as a private residence for his son Lt Col Yuvraj Fatesinghrao Gaekwad and his wife Yuvrani Padmavatidevi, parents of Pratapsinhrao. Samarjitsinh is Pratapsinhrao’s grandson.
Heritage status may help save city’s landmarks
The absence of heritage status for prominent architectural landmarks in Vadodara is the biggest hurdle in their preservation. In 2014, the Nazarbaug palace in Mandvi was brought down by its owners to make way for a sprawling mall. Heritage conservationists had moved a PIL in the Gujarat High Court to stop the royal family from demolishing the 1850 palace. The court, however, refused to express any opinion about its demolishing despite restraint orders from the Vadodara Municipal Corporation.
Samarjitsinh Gaekwad told The Indian Express, “We have decided to gather support after we learned from reliable sources that such a building is to come up to house offices of the Railways. The magnificient palace that it is, it needs a substantial front view. If a building of this size is built right in front of it, the beauty and heritage of the building will be lost. The palace is not open to public but with such construction, it will lose its relevance.”
The family’s petition also states, “The Pratap Vilas Palace estate also accommodates the ‘Oval Ground’ an open area, 90 degrees off Raja Baug. The same construction can be accommodated on this centrally situated open space. The city has already lost a historic and archeological jewel like Nazarbaug, let us not destroy another.”
“Pratap Vilas Palace was sold to the government shortly after the merger of the princely states with the Indian Union. It has since been in the custody of the Railways and they have taken good care of it. We can only appeal that they should reconsider this construction. The Nazarbaug palace was with the Income Tax department for several years. My uncle demolished it after the settlement of our family dispute (related to property),” said Gaekwad. Nazarbaug palace, located in the heart of the city of Vadodara, was brought down in 2014.
Hublal Jagan, Deputy Comptroller, HR, NRTI told The Indian Express that the proposal to construct a new building is in the pipeline but is yet to be finalised. “The decision was taken by the Ministry of Railways but a detailed report or design are not yet final, so we cannot tell how big it will be or the exact space where it will be built. The architects are aware about the history of the palace and are doing their best to preserve its aesthetic beauty,” Jagan said.
He confirmed that the building will be used for classrooms and offices for the NRTI. The Railways had plans to shift the institute to another location in Waghodia but it hit a road block due to land acquisition issues. Jagan said, “The institute will eventually shift but as of now, we are in need of more space and so the construction has to be undertaken.”
The family that maintains the Lukshmi Vilas Palace, which is three times larger than the Buckingham Palace, is also concerned about the state of the iconic Nyaymandir building — a Byzantine structure where the district court functioned from early 1900s to March 2017. The district administration, in 2015, proposed to build a museum there bu the structure now stands in neglect.
Gaekwad said, “I have asked for court permission to visit the Nyaymandir. I can see vegetation growing on its facade and it is a concern. They should open Nyaymandir for public visit. Even I haven’t seen the entire structure, except the ground floor. To document its characteristics, it should be open.”
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