Patna Secretariat building, a remarkable British heritage site

Patna secretariat, Bihar

Patna Secretariat in the capital city Patna is located between  city's two historical buildings  Raj Bhavan in the west and Patna High Court in the far east. Also known as Patna Sachiwalaya or Old Secretariat, it is a landmark colonial building  known for its architectural beauty and splendor and  is the administrative headquarters of the state Government of Bihar in India. Just like the secretariats across India, it houses all  the important government departments, such as Home, Finance, General Administration, Cabinet Secretariat etc., besides office of the ministers and the bureaucrats.  The lawn adjacent to the building  has a  bronze statue of the first Chief Minister of Bihar, Bihar Kesari Srikrishna Sinha and the Martyr's memorial to commemorate the sacrifice of seven students during 1942 August Kranti movement.

Secretariat building, Patna,

Designed by the  famous New Zealand-born Architect Joseph Munnings of Sydney, Australia,  the work began in 1913 and completed in 1917 and the contractor was Martin Burn of Calcutta based company. It a fascinating Victorian style of building, carefully using Indo-Saracenic style of design. Munnings designed  the secretariat building, using  the Union Buildings of Pretoria, South Africa as model, hence the structure in the center  looks like an arch  connected with two other allied two-story buildings.  The Pretoria building was built by Herbert Baker, an architect of secretariats, Council House, and the New Delhi capital area. He was an associate of Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens, who was the architect for designing Delhi's capital area. British Raj's capital was shifted to Delhi in 1911 from Calcutta. Munnings was the consulting architect of the then newly formed state of Bihar and Orissa during 1913-1918. His major  works included the secretariat, government house and council chamber in Patna. This two story structure  is massively built  with mansard roofs ( after French architect F Mansart -1598-1666; four-cornered fast sloping roofs with red tiles) and it adds more  charm to it.

Patna secretariat

 There was a proposal to begin the NCA (New Capital Area) projects both at Delhi and Patna simultaneously by the Raj. For the NCA project, Patna the then DM A L English, assisted by deputy collector-cum-land acquisition officer Bhuban  Mohan Chatterjee, acquired a vast track of land covering 1,721 acres  for a total of around Rs 9.34 lakh (Rs 554.04 per acre). As planned by the authority,  Old Secretariat formed an ensemble with Government House, legislative building and the Patna High Court as part of NCA to be guided by J. Fearis Munnings  The estimate of the proposed project was Rs. 1.60 crore. Because of  ominous clouds of World War I were thick in the air in 1914, the funds were diverted to war preparations.

The secretariat building with the tall clock tower was built by the British during World War I. The architecture is actually  a blend of the neo-Gothic and pseudo-Renaissance styles. The dimension of the building is 716 feet long 364 feet wide, and is considered the largest government building in the city. The columns first  incorporated by Greeks and Egyptians in Doric style stand either alone or in groups of two or three. The latter grouping that was not ornamental became a style called 'Tuscan''  that had its origin in the region of Tuscany, central Italy. On the ground floor there occur non-decorated  basket-type arches in classical style. The portico with' mansard roof' is supported by columns. buttresses and walls. The central lobby has columns and arches. The interior part of the building maintains reasonable temperature during the hot summer season because of 4-foot gap between brick and cement  ceiling and outer covering of Raniganj tiles - an ingenious way to maintain cool temperature inside the building in tropical countries.

This beautiful edifice is adorned by a tall, highly visible clock tower in the center of the structure amidst lush green lawn. Gillett and Johnston, clock makers from Croydon, England, made the Churchill-pattern clock - such clocks have a patterned round face and larger digits than usual. One of the finest pieces of Churchill-pattern clock towers in India, the clock was installed  in the tower at the old secretariat in 1924.  The winding of the clock  takes about 15 minutes and another 15 minutes to wind the bell.  Clock-keepers  have to climb 276 steps to get to the top to wind it and maintain it periodically.  Presently,  the clock tower  is 184 feet tall.  Originally it stood 198 feet tall, but part of he building fell down in the wake of 1934 earthquake that struck part of Nepal and Bihar.