By Kunal Dutt
Patna, Mar 3 (PTI) The historic buildings of centuries-old Patna Collectorate and the iconic Golghar here were used as observation stations during the Great Trigonometrical Survey, a landmark project of the 19th century that aimed to measure the entire Indian subcontinent with scientific precision, according to archival documents.
The Patna Collectorate complex, parts of which are over 250 years old, is situated on the banks of Ganga and endowed with high ceilings, huge doors and hanging skylights. One of the last surviving signatures of Dutch architecture in the Bihar capital, its fate currently hangs in the balance.
The Bihar government had in 2016 proposed to demolish the old collectorate for a new high-rise 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".
Subsequently, the Indian National Trust for Art and Culture (INTACH), the Patna High Court had last year filed two petitions challenging the demolition proposal.
After hearing the two PILs, the Patna High Court had last September stayed the proposed demolition of the government complex while restraining the state authorities from "causing any harm to the collectorate building until further orders", bringing some relief to the heritage lovers.
The next hearing is expected to be held soon.
Historians, urban planners, conservation architects and other heritage experts have been appealing to the Nitish Kumar government to not dismantle the collectorate, saying it will "set a very bad precedent" and "jeopardise" the fate of other colonial-era buildings.
The INTACH Patna Chapter team, during the course of the litigation has found some interesting historical references in connection with the collectorate, which further heightens its heritage value and the need for preservation for posterity.
J K Lall, veteran architect and convener of the INTACH's Patna Chapter said, "A report has been found of early 1880s on the Great Trigonometrical Survey, which mentions that Patna Collectorate and Golghar and some other buildings in Patna were used in the survey."
"This makes Patna Collectorate even more historic and worthy of preservation. The Bihar government and people of Patna should take pride in this building and not demolish it with a myopic vision of development. History once lost, is lost forever," he said.
The 1883 report printed by the Survey of India's Trigonometric Branch in Dehradun is titled – 'Synopsis of the results of the operations of the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India Volume XVIII – Descriptions and coordinates of the principal and secondary stations and other fixed points'.
In the nearly 130-page report appertaining it to the North-East Quadrilateral, it is mentioned along with coordinates, the landmarks and places used in the path-breaking exercise, and it includes "Patna Collectorate, Patna Gola (Golghar) -- on top of Gola or public granary at Bankipore, Jafar Khan's Garden Cupola", among other places.
While the Golghar built in 1786 by the British as a granary has now become the veritable symbol of Patna, no visible trace remains of Bagh Jafar Khan which was located in eastern extremity of the city then, and Patna Collectorate over the decades has not been maintained well, Lall said.
The Great Trigonometrical Survey was a historic project which aimed to measure the entire Indian subcontinent with scientific precision. It was started in the early 1800s by infantry officer William Lambton, under the aegis of the East India Company.
Under the leadership of his successor, George Everest, the project was made a responsibility of the Survey of India.
Among the many accomplishments of the Great Trigonometrical Survey were the measurements of the height of the Mt Everest (earlier just called Peak XV) and other Himalayan giants.
Fervently appealing to not demolish the Patna Collectorate, a group of heritage lovers from the city had on Saturday gathered in its campus, seeking to raise awareness about the historical and architectural value of the colonial-era buildings.
The supporters had gathered under the aegis of 'Save Historic Patna Collectorate', a civil society-led movement for historic preservation in Bihar, which has been striving for the past few years to save the collectorate from demolition.
A heritage walk themed on history and heritage of Patna was also conducted by the organisers.
In 2016, the Patna Chapter of INTACH had sent a strongly-worded petition to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to immediately scrap the impending demolition plan, saying it would set a "very bad precedent and further jeopardise the fate of other heritage buildings in the city and eventually in the state".
Soon after the proposed demolition in 2016, the then Dutch Ambassador Alphonsus Stoelinga and London-based Gandhi Foundation had appealed against the demolition of the Collectorate, where parts of the Oscar-winning film 'Gandhi' were shot.
Some iconic scenes in the Richard Attenborough movie were filmed at the Collectorate, whose Dutch-era Record Room was shown as Motihari jail while British-built DM Office building was shown as a court in the film. PTI KND AAR