The Supreme Court Friday ordered status quo in the case related to demolition of centuries old Patna Collectorate complex, part of which was built during the Dutch-era, two days after Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar laid the foundation stone for the new structure. Ahead of the Assembly elections in Bihar in October-November, the Chief Minister had on Wednesday inaugurated and laid the foundation stone of 29 buildings worth Rs 622.22 crore, including construction of a new structure for Patna Collectorate.
The top court was informed that this complex, which also includes Dutch-era and British-era buildings, has a historical significance and should be preserved as a Signpost of History. Even the Dutch ambassador in 2016 had appealed for preserving the shared heritage of India and the Netherlands, the court was informed.
On September 1, the Patna High Court had vacated the stay ordered last September on demolition of the historic structure, part of which was also used for storage of opium and saltpetre. A bench of Chief Justice S A Bobde and Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian sought response from the Bihar government within two weeks on the plea filed by Indian National Trust For Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), Patna Chapter, challenging the High Court order.
Issue notice returnable two weeks. In the meantime, status quo of the disputed building i.e. Collectorate, shall be maintained by the parties, the bench ordered. Advocate Roshan Santhalia, appearing for INTACH, said that just because at one point of time opium was stored in a building, it does not mean that this place has no historic value and referred to the Dutch ambassador's letter appealing for the preserving the structure.
In 2016, the then Dutch ambassador, Alphonsus Stoelinga, had written to the Bihar Chief Minister appealing to preserve this "shared heritage" of the two countries and have it listed under the Bihar state archaeology department. The state government had in 2016 proposed to demolish the old Patna Collectorate for a new high-rise complex, triggering public outcry and appeals from various quarters in India and abroad to prevent the demolition. The complex, parts of which are over 250 years old, is situated on the banks of the Ganga and is endowed with high ceilings, huge doors and hanging skylights.
The collectorate is one of the last surviving signatures of Dutch architecture in the Bihar capital, 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 iconic Golghar here were also 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 Dutch came to India in early 17th century with the establishment of the Dutch East India Company which traded in various cities like Surat, Patna, Chinsurah (Bengal) and Pulicat (Coromandel region of Tamil Nadu). Patna was one of the major trading centres for opium and saltpetre and the Dutch built factories and godowns there on the banks of Ganga as the river played a major role in trade operation until the advent of railways in the 19th century. In 2016, public movement 'Save Historic Patna Collectorate' led by citizens from various walks of life was launched to save the historic landmark from demolition. Some of the key scenes of the Oscar award-winning film 'Gandhi' were shot at Patna Collectorate in the 1980s.