Patna heritage bungalows dismantled for museum

Six of Patna`s British-era heritage bungalows are being dismantled to make way for a 360-crore "world-class" museum.

Patna: Even as Bihar marks 100th anniversary of its foundation day at the historic Gandhi Maidan here, exhorting people to celebrate its heritage, six of the capital`s British-era heritage bungalows are being dismantled to make way for a 360-crore "world-class" museum.

The museum proposed by the state government in the nearly 13 acres area off Bailey Road here, replaces bungalows (no 2 through no 7) of colonial vintage and the adjoining vegetation cover, a move which has upset scholars and heritage lovers alike.

"It is shocking and shameful. And, isn`t it ironic that it is happening alongside Bihar Diwas? History is the worst victim of politics. For a historic city like Patna not being able to preserve its history for posterity proves the failure of the state and the cultural bankruptcy of the masses," says Shanker Dutt, an old resident of Patna and professor of English at the Patna University.

Anil Kumar, the professor of ancient Indian history, culture and archaeology at the Viswa-Bharati Univeristy at Shanti Niketan in West Bengal points out that the state government has remained "blind and deaf to the destruction of heritage."

Kumar is also one of the 30 scholars and academics of Bihar and outside the state who had urged Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to develop important historical sites, which are in total neglect, like the Mauryan site at Agamkuan, instead of spending crores for building a `world class museum` in the city.

"Instead of investing large sums of money on building new structures the government must use that fund to develop and refurbish existing sites. Bihar is filled with heritage and yet the idea of centrally putting a museum defeats the purpose, as instead it should be decentralised and site-specific, inviting people to travel to different heritage places in the state," says Kumar, who has devoted his last ten years researching some of the heritage places of Bihar.

Scholars are also opposing the project, which is only a few kilometres away from Patna`s old museum that they say the government could have "raised to a world-class status in fraction of the sum spent on this project".

"The old Patna Museum built in the 1920s in Indo-Saracenic style and now itself a heritage building could have been raised to a world-class status. But it`s badly utilized and fast losing its historic significance," adds Kumar. Kamini Sinha, associate professor of Architecture at the National Institute of Technology, Patna says, "Why couldn`t those heritage bungalow themselves been converted into a museum with addition of complementary buildings around them, or maybe a hotel or a heritage resort which would have also boosted up the local heritage tourism. Why this urge to destroy heritage in the name of development.”

"They could very well have made the museum outside the maintown, which is already saturated. Why everything at the centre? Why not develop beyond the old city where as there is lot of open space available there," she asks.

"During New Delhi`s 100 years celebration we tried promoting the preservation of the Lutyens-Bungalow Zone but it`s sad to learn that on Patna`s centenary it is losing its colonial heritage. I think Intach- Patna Chapter must initiate the process of preservation before it`s too late," said AGK Menon, Convener, Intach-Delhi Chapter.

Unlike Lutyen`s bungalows in Delhi, no such protection exists for bungalows here, which were built by JF Munnings, the Australian architect, who was commissioned to build the new capital of Patna in 1912.

Bodies such as the Nitish Kumar government constituted Bihar Heritage Development Society as well as the Intach-Patna Chapter, the Archaeological Survey of India - Patna Circle or the Bihar State Archaeology Department have kept silent on the issue, say experts.

Among the bungalows, No 3 (3, Bailey Road) was named the "Chaplain`s Bungalow" as it was the residence of the chaplain of the Christ Church, Bankipore in the city. It has now been shifted to 9, Polo Road, as per a notice on its main gate.

The adjoining campus of MM Haque Arabic and Persian University has been moved to 34, Hardinge Road. Only bungalow No 6 remains standing while the Chaplain`s Bungalow is almost gone. All the remaining have disappeared.

In 2011, the 1928-built heritage Tonga-stand at the Patna Junction was dismantled by the Indian Railways.

Bihar Diwas marks the foundation of the state on March 22, 1912. The three-day festivities marking the 100th anniversary of the historic day culminated today.