The centuries-old Patna Collectorate, parts of which were built during the Dutch era, is an “untapped tourism goldmine” which if leveraged to full potential can help tell the untold stories of the city and “generate revenues” for the government, many heritage lovers from across the country said on Sunday. The fate of the historic landmark in the Bihar capital currently hangs in the balance, and on World Tourism Day, experts and ordinary citizens, from Patna to Vadodara and Delhi to Kolkata, made a fresh appeal to the government to not demolish the iconic complex located on the banks of the Ganga river.
Hearing a petition by heritage body INTACH, the Supreme Court on September 18 had ordered a stay on the demolition of the Patna Collectorate, two days after Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had laid the foundation stone for its new complex and a slew of other projects ahead of the state polls.
Kolkata-based conservation architect Manish Chakraborty, said tourism can be used both for “education” and to “put focus on preservation of heritage’.
“Worldwide, a new trend is beginning that people now want to experience the actual living heritage of a city, which people interact with on a daily basis. They want to see the less talked about historic elements of the city vis-a-vis going only to the celebrated or the famous ones. And, for Patna, the Collectorate is one such landmark,” he said.
Chakraborty, who has worked on a UNESCO award-winning project in Serampore in West Bengal, again appealed to the Bihar government to rethink the decision and not “squander away the wealth” of this “priceless city heritage”.
“The Collectorate, with buildings dating from the Dutch-era to the British period, is a fascinating place with different stories to tell from over 400 years of Dutch history in Patna. It is an untapped tourism goldmine. And, all these stories, from the opium trade history to its history as a district Collectorate for the last over 160 years and its connection with so many world events, like World War II can be woven into a complete package for tourists,” he said.
The Bihar government had in 2016 proposed to demolish the historic landmark to make way for a new complex, sparking huge public outcry and appeal to save it from various quarters in India and abroad.
The then Dutch ambassador Alphonsus Stoelinga had in 2016 written a letter to the Bihar chief minister appealing to preserve the Patna Collectorate as a “shared heritage” of India and the Netherlands.
“We had worked on a 1786-era Danish Tavern (in West Bengal) and brought it back to life from less than a skeletal state. Patna Collectorate is still standing strong, with roofs having sagged at a few places, which can be repaired and reinforced or the entire roof can be redone. That can’t be rationale to bring down the entire structure which has sturdy walls and priceless history within it,” Chakraborty said.
The Patna Collectorate is one of the last surviving specimens of Dutch architecture in the city, especially the Record Room and the old District Engineer’s Office.
The British-era structures in its complex include the DM Office Building and District Board Patna Building.
The 12-acre complex, parts of which are over 250 years old, is endowed with high ceilings, huge doors and hanging skylights. In Patna, other Dutch buildings include the main administrative block of Patna College and state government press at Gulzarbagh. In Chapra city, across the Ganga, a Dutch-era graveyard is located in Karinga, in a pitiable condition.
The Danish Tavern is now an iconic tourism destination in West Bengal and along with St Olav’s Church makes a fascinating Danish circuit to explore. Patna can create a “Dutch circuit” similarly after restoring the Collectorate, Chakraborty said.
Patna-born Bina Mishra, 67, who served as a deputy collector of the Record Room in the early 80s, said world over people are preserving their old buildings, but “our government instead of exploiting its heritage value and tourism potential, is hell bent on demolishing it”.
“I have such fascinating memories of working in the Record Room. I was a young woman and at that time the DM was R K Singh, who is now a union minister. He really had planned the reorganisation of the Record Room and the buildings of Collectorate also used to be in good shape. How can they even think of demolishing it now,” she asked.
Patna is a historic city and not all buildings are officially listed as heritage, but that does not mean, “these buildings are disposable”, Mishra said.
“The Patna Collectorate is part of the memories of several generations. It is part of the living memory of the city, and demolishing it will amount to demolishing those memories, those stories. In fact, the government should notify the complex as a heritage,” said Mishra, whose grandfather had served as a district registrar in the Collectorate.
Mishra, now based in Ranchi, is also part of a public movement ‘Save Historic Patna Collectorate’ led by citizens from various walks of life, which was launched in 2016 to save the historic landmark from demolition.
Delhi-based brand strategist Ramesh Tahiliani called the demolition move “reckless” and “a dangerous step that will impoverish the city of its past glory”.
“Tourists don’t go to city to see high-rise concrete buildings. Any person who goes to a new place, also evaluates its past and that’s why these buildings are important organic links to the past of Patna, from the ancient Pataliputra to the modern Patna of the 20th century,” he said.
Tahiliani said a tourist spends a lot of time researching online before deciding a destination, and tourism is one big part of branding a city or a state.
“Has Bihar tourism department or Patna district administration done enough to reach out to potential tourists. Instead of restoring and marketing the immense tourism values of the Patna Collectorate, they want to knock it down for a high-rise complex which can be built anywhere else,” he said.
Vadodara-based Animish Phatak, 23, a data analyst by profession and a digital graphic artist by passion, said, “My interest in Patna grew after I joined the Save Historic Patna Collectorate campaign, which is now a people’s movement”.
“I know Patna has fallen right off the tourism map, but after learning so much about the Collectorate, its architecture, layers of history, and how many other heritage building have lost battle to the onslaught of modernity, I really want to go and explore Patna. I also appeal to the Bihar government to spare the Collectorate and connect it to the tourism circuit, which can also bring a lot of revenues for the government,” he said.