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Bihar CM to lay foundation stone of new Patna Collectorate complex on Wednesday

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Patna, Sep 14: The Bihar government has set the wheels in motion for the construction of a new complex of the Patna Collectorate, days after the high court lifted an interim stay on the demolition of the historic landmark, dealing a blow to a sustained bid by citizens for its preservation.

Nitish Kumar

Sources said on Monday that Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is slated to lay the foundation stone of the new complex, which will replace the centuries-old Patna Collectorate, parts of which were built during the Dutch-era.

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"A sprawling new collectorate complex will come up on the site of the old district collectorate. The CM is slated to lay its foundation stone day after tomorrow at 4.30 pm," an official source said.

"The plan was to have it done today so that work could begin soon on the construction of the new complex. However, due to death of Raghuvansh ji, there was change of plan," he said.

Former Union minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh died on Sunday at AIIMS New Delhi, where he was admitted for treatment of post-COVID complications. He was 74. The Patna High Court verdict earlier this month in the INTACH vs State of Bihar case also brought an end to the year-long litigation, which put the poor condition of unprotected built heritage of Patna and rest of Bihar in sharp focus.

The Bihar government had in 2016 proposed to demolish the old Patna Collectorate for a new highrise complex, triggering public outcry and appeals from various quarters in India and abroad to spare the demolition and preserve it as a "signpost of Patna's history".

The demolition matter subsided for a while after a letter to the Bihar chief minister by the then Dutch ambassador, Alphonsus Stoelinga, in 2016, in which he had also appealed to preserve this "shared heritage" of the two countries and have it listed under the Bihar state archaeology department. However, in the later half of 2019, boards were put up on the walls of the Dutch-era Record Room building, saying it was the "Site for construction of the new Collectorate complex".

Subsequently, the Indian National Trust for Art and Culture (INTACH) had filed two petitions in the Patna High Court on August 30 last year, challenging the demolition proposal and seeking constitution of the Bihar Urban Arts and Heritage Commission, which was pending since 2012. On September 25 last year, a bench of the high court passed an order to put an interim stay on the demolition.

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Later, the heritage commission was set up by the Bihar government on March 30 on the directions of the court. The commission, however, recommended demolition of the centuries-old landmark despite opposition from heritage experts and a sustained citizen-led campaign, 'Save Historic Patna Collectorate', since 2016 to save and preserve it.

The Patna Collectorate complex, parts of which are over 250 years old, is situated on the banks of the Ganga and is endowed with high ceilings, huge doors and hanging skylights. The collectorate is one of the last surviving signatures of Dutch architecture in the Bihar capital, especially the Record Room and the old District Engineer's Office.

British-era structures in its complex include the DM Office Building and District Board Patna Building.

A bench of Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice S Kumar of the Patna High Court disposed the case on September 1 and passed a verdict saying, "we vacate the interim order dated 25.09.2019 leaving it open for the government to take necessary consequential action".

The high court verdict has come as a big jolt to historians, conservation architects and many other heritage loves and experts who have been pleading to the Bihar government to not demolish the historic Collectorate, and preserve and restore it as a "rare signpost of history" while linking it to the heritage tourism circuit in the state. Patna High Court lawyer and member of 'Save Historic Patna Collectorate' movement, Kumar Shanu, felt "the judgement may also jeopardise the fate of other unprotected heritage buildings in Patna and rest of Bihar".

"After the appeal by the Dutch envoy and others, the competent authority should have listed it as a heritage building under the state archaeology department and not let it be unlisted, a lacuna that the government took advantage of," he said.

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