British-era Patna DM office building shown in ‘Gandhi’ razed

Patna: Historic British-era Patna District Magistrate’s office building, part of the centuries-old Collectorate campus, which was featured in key scenes in Oscar-winning film ‘Gandhi’ has been demolished, sending a wave of grief among heritage lovers and Gandhians.

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Bulldozers gnawed at the elegant two-storey main Patna Collectorate building, situated on the banks of the river Ganga, a couple of days ago, reducing it to a skeletal state.

The building was felled as part of the redevelopment project of the Bihar government.

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On Wednesday, labourers carried away bricks from the mountains of rubble that lay deposited next to what remained of the old building, which once was the seat of the district administration and was said to have been constructed in the early 20th century.

The building was also adorned with an ornate iron-made spiral staircase mounted on its western facade.

Heritage lovers of the city had earlier appealed to the authorities to rescue its historical artefacts, such as the old safety vaults, clocks and furniture, hanging skylights, the spiral staircase, a vintage steamroller, and a very old printing machine, as buildings on the Collectorate campus were announced to undergo a phase-wise demolition.

“Demolition started on the same day (June 24) the Ganga Drive was inaugurated, and I could hear the grunt of bulldozers knocking it down late night too. It was a strong building of the British era,” said a local resident, who lives near the Collectorate Ghat, on the condition of anonymity.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had on Friday dedicated to the public the first phase of Rs 3,831-crore expressway along the Ganges — ‘J P Ganga Path’ — which has been dubbed as ‘Patna’s Marine Drive.’

The 20-km elevated roadway passes from the front of the Collectorate Ghat, and would eventually connect Digha to Didarganj.

On May 13 this year, Supreme Court had rejected a plea by heritage body INTACH, which had been fighting a legal battle since 2019 to save the landmark from demolition, paving the way for the razing of the Patna Collectorate complex.

The demolition started the very next day, and 1938-built District Board Patna building was the first to receive the blows of the bulldozers.

The structure, endowed with ancient-looking pilaster Corinthian columns in its iconic Meeting Hall, was pulled down by May 17, as was the centuries-old Land Acquisition Office building in the sprawling 12-acre complex.

The Dutch-era Record Room building, which had high ceilings, massive doors, and very old and unique skylights on roof, was also razed on May 17. A very small portion on the frontage has been spared so far, as the Record Room office is still occupying it.

Gandhi’, the multiple Academy Award-winning film – including the best picture and best director – had featured the Record Room building as Motihari Jail, while the DM Office building was dressed up as a court to film the famous Champaran trial of M K Gandhi.

Several historians, scholars, conservation architects, Gandhians and ordinary citizens have expressed their anguish ever since the demolition began on the historic Patna Collectorate campus last month.

Kolkata-based veteran heritage activist and INATCH’s Governing Council member G M Kapur lamented the “fall of the Patna Collectorate landmark, brick by brick.”

“As a nation and as a conscientious society we must respect our history and heritage, else history will not respect us. It is sad that now the historic DM Office Building of Patna is gone too. The building was strong and beautiful, a sensitive planning could have incorporated it into the redevelopment plan,” he said.

The current demolition move in the Collectorate campus, comes days after the Bihar government announced its plan to build three five-star hotels in the Bihar capital, including one at the site of the century-old Sultan Palace in the heart of Patna, by demolishing its old structure, triggering a public outcry.

Ironically, both the Patna Collectorate and Sultan Palace are mentioned as cultural sites on the official website of Bihar Tourism.

“In the year 2008, the Collectorate was listed as a heritage building by the government of Bihar. The high style of Dutch architecture and British architecture is seen in the construction of the Collectorate building,” reads the section on the Collectorate on the website, which also has a photograph of the DM Office building.

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

The state government had in 2016 proposed to demolish the old Patna collectorate for a new high-rise complex, drawing criticism from the public and appeals from various quarters, including the then Dutch envoy in India and London-based Gandhi Foundation.

Octogenarian Razi Ahmad, secretary of the Gandhi Sanghralaya in Patna, on Gandhi Jayanti last year, had lamented that instead of celebrating this historic landmark as a heritage, the Bihar government had proposed to dismantle it in the name of development.

Ahmad, who at one time had a ringside view of the shooting of Gandhi’, recalled the “artificial rain” that was created outside the DM Office building when ‘Gandhiji’, played by actor Ben Kingsley, emerges out of the courtroom and into the corridor, acknowledging the crowd on the ground that chanted “Gandhiji, Gandhiji” in an expression of rousing deference.

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