Patna: In a major relief to heritage enthusiast, the Patna high court has put off the state government’s bid to demolish the century-year-old iconic landmark, Sultan Palace, on Beer Chand Patel Path in the state capital.
The court directed the government to file its reply within eight weeks to justify reasons for demolition of the heritage building.
The state tourism department has proposed to build a five-star hotel on the Sultan Palace premises by engaging private firm. Two other places, Hotel Ashoka and Bankipore Bus stand, have also been identified by the department to construct ultra modern hotels after the state cabinet gave its nod to the proposal in June.
Built in 1922 by a famous barrister Sir Sultan Ahmed, the Sultan Palace is not only an architectural marvel, but it used to serve as the distress shelter to the Patnaites during the period of clashes, mainly during the internecine communal violence. “Its campus, which also comprised the New Patna Club, provided shelter to one and all and its kitchen used to remained burning all time for those starving for food for one and all, cutting across the religious affiliations,” recalled a historian.
The stay on the demolition of the palace was granted by the court during an online hearing on Friday on a PIL (public interest litigation) filed recently, according to lawyers of the petitioner. A division bench of the Chief Justice of the High Court Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice S Kumar stayed the proposed demolition of the Sultan Palace. A young lawyer, Amarjeet, had filed the petition in the court to avert the government’s plan to bulldoze it.
Sultan Bhawan, which was taken over by the state government in sixties, is also known as Parivahan Bhawan as it used to house the office of transport commissioner.
The petitioner said that one of the judges in the bench also cited the example of Rajasthan, where old heritage buildings have been restored, re-purposed and reused as hotels or for other purposes, and celebrated.
Prompted by the cabinet’s nod to construction five star hotels, principal secretary, tourism, Santosh Kumar Mall had said that the old building had outrun its age and started crumbling down. “It is beyond the repair, hence the government has decided to pull it down and build a plus hotel,” said Mall.
Historians, however, have different arguments. “Any building, if not maintained, can cave in. If Sultan Palace is getting disintegrated, the state government shell be held accountable for it. It hardly spent any penny for maintenance and repair of the monumental building, even though it provided space for the transport department to run its office,” said a historian.
“How can the government allow demotion of a protected monument? Who will safeguard the heritage of the protector turns a demolisher.” asked the historian, urging the court to ensure that the fiasco that led to destruction of the old structure of Patna Collectorate is not repeated in case of Sultan Palace. “The state government had filed a false affidavit in the court, saying that the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) had granted its approval to demolish the Patna collectorate building. However, the ASI later stated that the Bihar government had never consulted it in the matter relating to the Patna collectorate,” he added.
Owing to its architectural beauty, the Sultan Palace has got its place in “Patna: A Monumental History”, published by the state government in 2008. “Sultan Palace is a beautiful example of Islamic architecture, its palatial look comes from its high-domed tower in the centre and the domed pavilions at the two ends of the roof. This is further stressed by slender minarets rising at angles and the series of multi-foliated arches in the facade,” reads the chapter in it on the palatial building, which sits in a sprawling campus of more than four acres.
Located on the historic Gardiner Road (currently known as Beer Chand Patel Road) near R-Block, the palace was built by Ahmed, who also briefly served as a judge in the Patna high court, and then as the first Indian vice-chancellor of the Patna University from 1923-30. He later also became a member of the Viceroy’s executive council for law, and information and broadcasting, and was part of the delegation of India for the historic Round Table Conferences in 1930s in London, along with Mahatma Gandhi.