The Dutch-era Record Room Building of the Patna Collectorate, which was shown in the Oscar-winning movie “Gandhi” and had a colonnaded frontage, has been torn down, but a few of its pillars have been saved for future generations.
The grand building, which was over 300 years old and stood on the banks of the Ganga river in Patna, ran north to south. It had high ceilings, huge doors, and unique skylights on its roof. It was also the oldest building on the old collectorate’s 12-acre grounds.
The fate of the historic collectorate complex was decided on May 13 of last year when the Supreme Court denied INTACH, a group based in Delhi, a request to save it. This made it possible for the Bihar government to tear it down.
The next day, bulldozers started tearing down the huge campus, and the 1938-built District Board Patna Building was the first to fall. This made people who care about history and Gandhians sad.
By May 17, both the British building and the Dutch Record Room Building had been turned into piles of rubble. Back then, the office for the Record Room was still in a small part of the front of the building.
In the last few months, the Record Room’s old documents and office were moved to another building near the Gandhi Maidan. A senior official said that the rest of the Dutch-era building would be torn down by the end of December.
“However, we have kept the pillars on the front of the building. To pull out the pillars during the demolition work for the redevelopment project was a big engineering challenge. A top official told PTI that once the new collectorate complex is built, these pillars will be prominently displayed on the campus so that people can see both new buildings and a piece of the past.
He also said that a board with information about the old collectorate’s history would be put up.
On the site of the old collectorate, workers are hard at work building a new high-rise complex, which is expected to be done in two years.
The top official said, “The project’s chief engineer has been told to look at the layout map and come up with a plan for how to show off the preserved pillars in the best way.”
Eight Tuscan pillars, which used to be part of the beautiful colonnaded front of the now-demolished Record Room Building, are now kept on a concrete slab in the corner of the construction site. They were once part of the building’s front facade, but it has since been torn down.
The pillars are near a big pile of debris from the building they once held up.
The front of the Record Room Building had the Revenue Record Room, which was reached by a few stone steps. Behind it was the Judicial Record Room, and then there were several large rooms that used to house different parts of the Patna district government.
The front had a long verandah that ran east to west. There were four large columns in front of the steps in the middle, and three large columns in each of the wings to the east and west.
In the last few decades, insensitive architectural changes were made to the historic one-story building, which took away from its original beauty. It was eventually torn down, which upset conservation architects who had pushed for the preservation and restoration of all heritage buildings on the Patna Collectorate campus as a marker of history.
Two Tuscan columns were stuck in a wall in the eastern wing of the Record Room’s verandah, where a makeshift room had been built many decades ago.
Inside the Revenue Record Room, there were a few big free-standing columns that are thought to have been destroyed during the demolition.
In 2016, the state government wanted to tear down the old Patna collectorate to build a new high-rise complex. This plan was met with criticism from the public and appeals from different groups, such as the Dutch envoy in India at the time and the Gandhi Foundation in London.
“Gandhi,” which won several Academy Awards, including best picture and best director, used the Record Room Building as Motihari Jail. The British-era DM Office Building, which was torn down in June of last year, was turned into a court for the famous Champaran trial that made Mohandas K. Gandhi a “Mahatma” to the people.
For the redevelopment project, eight buildings, including two that were built after independence, have been taken apart.
Since 2019, INTACH has been fighting in court to keep the landmark from being torn down. After losing the case in the Patna High Court in 2020, they quickly appealed to the Supreme Court, which stopped the demolition on September 18, 2020, just two days after Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar laid the first stone of the redevelopment project.
In its decision, the Patna High Court said that INTACH’s case was not valid, but it said that the pillars should not be destroyed.
A lot of historians, scholars, conservation architects, Gandhians, and regular people are upset that the historic Patna Collectorate is being torn down.
On the official website of Bihar Tourism, the Patna Collectorate is still listed as a cultural site, which is kind of funny.
Also, “Patna: A Monumental History,” a book put out by the Bihar government in 2008, lists the Patna Collectorate and other sites as heritage buildings.