Millennium Post

Care some for Capital’s iconic hall

The iconic town hall at Delhi’s Chandni Chowk is gradually decaying after its desertion by the Municipal administration’s modern multi-storied new town hall at minto road. The Delhiites might be feeling excited with this news of redevelopment of the town hall as a museum cum recreation centre. The glory of the historical town hall was once talked about across the country and abroad.

Chandni Chowk, originally meaning ‘moonlit square’, was developed during 17th century by mughal emperor, Shahjahan while discharging functions of the present DDA in the capital city. It was designed by the daughter of the emperor, Jahanara. Chandni Chowk had 1,560 shops and a wide road with a canal in the middle. The canal was filled by the Britishers in 1910.

The town hall was built in 1865 while its construction started five years earlier. It was the time when the last mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, was still in the Red Fort held as a prisoner under the British Raj. The town hall complex, spread over a 16 acre area, was once formed as part of the garden laid by Shahjahan’s daughter, Jehanara and a sarai. The town hall was also regarded as the seat of the British supremacy by the freedom fighters. They threw a bomb when a procession carrying Lord Hardinge was passing through Chandni Chowk near town hall. It has seen the turmoil during freedom struggle and later political protests by the opposition parties in the MCD over issues of public concern. The town hall housed the Lawrence institute and Institute of Higher Learning, a library and European club. The motive behind this was to improve the local minds and forward interaction between Europeans and natives. The town hall that was constructed with contributory funds of Rs 30,000 from Indian citizens and a substantial bit from a rich merchant, Lala Mahesh Chand was later bought by the Municipal Committee at Rs 1,35,457 in 1866. The public library and the European club were shifted to Ludlow Castle in 1898.

The town hall is a reminder of many events of the past. The queen’s garden around the town hall has been renamed as Company bagh and a bronze statue of Queen Victoria was replaced by the statue of Swami Shradhanand in 1947. The town hall, constructed out of yellow painted brick and stone and carved out of white stone trim, is situated on a prime place and surrounded by the famous bazaar including nai sadak, a treasure of the books, on one side and the magnificent railway station on the other. A clock tower situated near the town hall got damaged in 1960 and is not visible today.  The town hall, along with the clock tower, might also be missing the slow moving trams.

The town hall remained headquarter of the MCD from 1866 to 2011-2012. The first civic body called Delhi Municipal Commission was constituted in 1862 and its first meeting in the town hall took place around 1866 when the population of Delhi was just 1.21 lakh. A number of notified area committees and three/four municipal committees were constituted prior to coming up of Delhi Municipal Committee in 1951 when the population grew to 43 lakh.

The MCD was constituted in 1958 and continued its governance from the town hall up to 2010 when the issue of trifurcation was being debated. The first Mayor of the undivided MCD was a lady, Aruna Asaf Ali and the last one was also a lady, Rajni Abbi. The longest serving Mayors were M S Sathi (Congress) and Lala Hans Raj Gupta (Bhartiya Jansangh). The MCD offices started shifting from the town hall and the process was completed in 2010. The new town hall was inaugurated by the then Home Minister Chidambaram, while delivering his speech in Hindi. This was followed by MCD trifurcation in 2012.

The town hall at Chandni Chowk is now standing tall with broken windows and doors, rusting cars, abandoned library and a ceiling on the verge of collapse. The building is being left with only 16 cleaning staff and six guards. Ever since it was vacated, there had been numerous talks on turning it into a museum or a hotel. The latest is its conversion into a heritage spot while preserving its originality and uniqueness.

The tourism ministry has agreed to provide Rs 50 crore for its redevelopment as a museum-cum recreation centre, a hotel, children’s gallery, restaurant, audio-visual rooms, conference hall, landscaping, parking and a tourist information centre. The mughal museum will showcase different cultural aspects of that era such as cuisine, performing area, crafts, rituals and storytelling tradition. The North Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) has given its nod to the proposal. Let us wish for its smooth execution, at the earliest.
The author is a communication consultant
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