Shimla's Town Hall again cries for attention

BY VISHAL GULATI

Shimla, Aug 27 (IANS) Nearly a year after the British-era past was reconstructed from the debris of the old with the Asian Development Bank funding of Rs 8 crore, the issue of Town Hall's possession has been caught in a legal battle. It now cries for attention with regard to its upkeep.

It was built exactly the way it was 111 years ago, but has been lying locked and is now succumbing to the ravages of neglect.

The roofs of the prominent landmark on the Mall Road, built in 1908 in typical hill architecture style with smoke-emitting chimneys, have developed leaks and rainwater finds its way through crevices into the rooms.

A few walls have developed molds, rue caretakers.

"Roofs have developed leaks and due to seepage, walls have developed black mold spots," a caretaker, who didn't wish to be identified, told IANS.

Since most of the time the building remains locked and there is no adequate ventilation, the rot problem will get aggravated, he said.

On outside walls, there is a noticeable growth of wild grass and plants.

The majestic Town Hall was initially designed as a library by the British India. After India's partition, some of the offices of the Municipal Corporation were housed in it.

Till its handing over to the government for restoration in September 2014, it was housing the local civic body offices.

"If the state high court has to take a call about the use of Town Hall building, then what is the need of the government," octogenarian Mela Ram Sud, who is born and brought up in Shimla, told IANS.

He said abnormal delay by the government to take a decision that the building is used either as a museum or a library has led to lack of its proper maintenance.

"Sadly, the building has started decaying once again," another local resident Dalip Begta, said, pointing towards wild growth of grass on the building.

In August 2018, a majority of locals in a public hearing, organised at the behest of the high court to get views on putting Town Hall to judicious use, demanded setting up of a public place so that the tourists could get a glimpse of state's rich cultural heritage.

The Tourism Department, that executed the restoration work under the Shimla beautification plan, had refused to hand over the building back to the Shimla Municipal Corporation.

Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur dedicated the restored building to the public on November 29, 2018.

Officials said the issue relating to handing over possession of Town Hall building is pending in the high court, which is hearing a public interest litigation regarding beautification of Shimla.

In one of its hearings on the proper utilization of the building in January this year, the high court was categorically clear in saying Town Hall was not meant for the Municipal Corporation.

For utilizing the building as a public convenience, the court asked the government to prepare a comprehensive conceptual plan regarding its utilization.

In December 2017, the high court had observed that the iconic structure could be used either as a museum or a library rather than leaving it at the mercy of the 'babus' by allowing a public office to run from there.

Hearing a petition, a division bench of Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice Sandeep Sharma had observed: "Undoubtedly, it is an important and significant landmark of the town. Intrinsically, it is part of its heritage.

"It's in this backdrop, we are of the considered view that a decision must be taken with regard to proper use of the building after its restoration."

Tracing the Town Hall history, the court said it was actually designed as New Library and Offices by Scottish architect James Ransome.

Former Deputy Mayor of Shimla and urban expert Tikender Panwar said Town Halls throughout the world have been owned and governed by the mayor and nobody else.

"It is a municipal body property and it should be handed over to it," he added.

The Town Hall building is in the half-timbered Tudor style -- all-wooden frames and shingled eaves.

Its exteriors and interiors were refurbished by polishing and repairing the stone work. The windows and rooftops were totally replaced and the Gothic facade was improved, say officials involved in its restoration.

(Vishal Gulati can be reached at [email protected])

--IANS

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