Old Patna Collectorate - a heritage structure built by the Dutch saved from demolition

Dutch building. Patna collectorate, Patna Bihar state. newsclick.in

Patna collectorate, Patna, Bihar. deccanherald.com

The old Patna  complex, Patna (Bihar) built by the Dutch East India Company, along with Patna college's administrative building  and the remains  of Opium godown in Gulzaribagh are the last surviving vestiges of this big city's  connection with  Patna's Dutch  history. .

Standing on a huge plot of 12 acres of land  on the banks of  the Ganga river in Patna city  is one of the iconic  colonial buildings initially built by the Dutch  company.  It served as a collectorate complex with district Headquarters during the EIC rule  under the British in the later period.  The Record Room and the old District Engineer’s Office in the complex are the surviving vestiges and architectural signature of the Dutch  East India company. The Roman Doric pillars on both sides of the building’s  large verandah  are typical of Dutch style.  You can not miss the  impressive   view of the fa├žade of Patna Collectorate’s  stunning Record Room.  Many of us may not be aware that   here some movie scenes were shot for the Oscar-winning film Gandhi’  directed by famous British actor-turned director  and historian David  Attenborough. 

Way back in 2008 the building was declared   a heritage stage by the Bihar government , however in the last few years attempts  were made by the  ruling government  to demolish the old structure to replace it with a new and more spacious one  to accommodate more government departments in a single place unmindful of its  heritage aspect.  The Bihar government was quite adamant about razing the building without realizing a piece of history of Patna will be pushed  deep into the pit to be dug by them. 

Old Patna collectorate built by the Dutch  timesofindia.indiatimes.com

Historians and heritage lovers who   were in rage about  the way the government was  handling the question of  proposed demolition had moved the Patna High Court which in 2016 turned a blind eye and refused to stay the demolition  move taken by the then government. The interpretation that since the Dutch building of the collectorate was used as a warehouse to store opium and saltpeter a few centuries ago, it was “not a heritage structure”,  had a backlash and drew severe criticism from  historians, scholars and  others. The other contention was the roof in many places caved in and many parts  were  in  a dilapidated state.  The Bihar government allocated Rs. 200 crores for a modern spacious building and offered the contract to a Delhi-based firm. 

To save the historical site from  total pulldown, two PILs  were filed in the Patna High Court  by Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) in August 2019,  restraining  demolition move by the state government. The move to save the old building had  the full backing of the public and heritage lovers from India and other countries.. Responding to the PILs  court disposed the case in a jiff  without taking the past history of the structure  and recommended  to take “necessary consequential action "implying wholesale demolition. The government argued the old collectorate building  had no  “architectural, cultural or aesthetic values” to warrant preservation..

Against the verdict  by the Patna HC,  an appeal was made before the Supreme Court in New Delhi and  in the recent past  SC allowed the stay on the demolition of the  old Patna Collectorate  complex. The heritage lovers and conservation experts were quite happy over the SC's right direction in this matter and it reconfirmed people's faith in judiciary in a democratic set up.  The heritage structure was saved from  near death situation.  The state government was ready to move in with bulldozers to  turn the site into a plain ground. 

Pulling down  monuments of historical  value  using various ruses by the politicians in power augur irresponsible attitude of the higher-ups regarding  heritage sites. Monuments and heritage sites never get the attention of the governments unless protests are made by the historians  and heritage lovers.  A recent example is the demolition order passed by the Mysore city council  on Lansdowne building in the heart of Mysore city that was built in 1892 by the Mysore ruler in honor of visiting dignitary Lord Lansdowne, Viceroy of India (!888- 1894). The Karnataka government alone could save the heritage site.  The public and  Maharani of the royal family made a vein attempt  in the recent past to stop the demolition order. 

Historians are of the view that “Erasing these landmarks will not only erase an important piece of history of Patna, it will erase the identity of the city of Patna,” That such movements lend character to the city is quite true. If a monument is turned into dust, along with it lost is a piece of history of that place and cultural or political aesthetics.  The state governments with some exceptions pay least attention to heritage structures as the  focus of politicians in power  is more on sharing power  and retaining their ministry. Such monuments/heritage buildings  act as a ''strong  link between the past and present and provide continuity for the future generations''. With respect to colonial monuments, and  shifting of old British officials' statues  from public spaces to the dungeon in the museum  is not a good proposition.  why do the governments both central and   state  see the anything related to British or Dutch   through ''colonial  prism?'' A few years ago there was a proposal to shift the equestrian statue of Thomas Monroe in Chennai - a beautiful marble statue of a British officer who happened to be of great help to the natives.  Because of  severe public backlash and criticism, the  government gave it up finally. 

The collectorate at Patna building has a close connection with the growth and development of Patna city.  The riverine port  here attracted the Dutch and later the British and other European countries. Between 1645 and 51  Dutch reestablished their trade post and exported illegally Opium to China and saltpeter to  many countries. They used the collectorate building as a warehouse to store saltpeter (also spelled  saltpetre, or potassium nitrate, KNO3;  mixed with other  ingredients  to make gun powder) and later Opium.  Subsequently, British took over this area and also the building which served as the collectorate soon after 1857  - during the raging Sepoy Mutiny/ first war of independence.

Dutch East India co. Warehouse, Patna.Bihar. barandbench.com

Above images: Collectorate Building: The building was built by the Dutch East India Company in the 18th Century, as a godown for opium and saltpetre. It was later used for administrative purposes New Indian Express,................ 

Dutch building, Patna collectorate. Corridor. indianexpress.com

Dutch building, Doric columns, Patna collectorate,Bihar. indianexpress.com

Above image: The collectorate building was built by Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, also known as Dutch East India Company. ........................

Way back inn 2016, itself the then Dutch ambassador, Alphonsus Stoelinga, had written to the chief minister, appealing to preserve this “shared heritage” of the two countries and had it listed under the Archaeology Department. The Dutch government was particular about the preservation of their legacy in this part of Bihar.  It was in this state in   Champaran  Gandhiji first experimented  his tool to rattle the British - Satyagraha  in support of Indigo farmers who were cheated by the  greedy  and grasping British landlords.

The SC direction is  a “strong message” to the society on “preserving our rich past indiscriminately”.