The Patna High Court has sought a reply from the Bihar government on its decision to dismantle the historic Sultan Palace to build a five-star hotel, even as it stayed the proposed demolition of the iconic 100-year-old landmark in the heart of the city.
The stay on the demolition of the Palace, built in 1922 by barrister Sir Sultan Ahmed, was granted by the court during an online hearing on Friday on a PIL filed recently, according to lawyers of the petitioner.
The move has brought much-needed relief to heritage lovers and a large cross-section of the citizenry which had been demanding the authorities to roll back the decision, and instead restore and reuse the palace.
The public interest litigation (PIL) was filed by a young Patna-based lawyer and this was the first hearing in the case, said a member of a team of lawyers who appeared on behalf of him during the hearing.
The PIL, titled Amarjeet vs Union of India, against the decision of Bihar government to demolish the heritage building ‘Sultan Palace’ in Patna, which is commonly known as Parivahan Bhawan, was filed before the Patna High Court a few weeks ago.
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,” the member said.
The court has sought a reply from the Bihar government as to why it has planned to demolish a 100-year-old heritage building, asking it to furnish the response in eight weeks.
Bihar native Sriram Krishna, who practices at the Supreme Court, and sometimes at the Patna High Court, and leads the legal team of the petitioner, said, “A future cannot be forged by erasing our past, it has to be a holistic development.”
“We already lost Patna Collectorate to demolition, which should have been protected and preserved by the state government. And, a host of other historic buildings have also been demolished in the last decade or so. And, now the sword of demolition was dangling over this beautiful palace, so we decided to intervene to save it for the posterity,” he told PTI.
Preservation, it seems is “not part of the vision” of the Bihar government, he lamented, adding, “we don’t wish to let Sultan Palace go the Patna Collectorate way”.
“And, one of the reasons, why we filed the petition was because we read in news reports about the situation and realised there was a substantial voice being raised by the people to save it. Heritage preservation is our duty,” Krishna said.
Petitioner and lawyer Amarjeet, 28, said one of the judges in the bench also cited the example of Rajasthan, where old heritage buildings have been restored, repurposed, and reused as hotels or for other purposes, and celebrated.
The Nitish Kumar government had mid-June announced that the state cabinet has given its nod to build three five-star hotels in Patna, including one on Beer Chand Patel Road where the palace is built.
The government had then said that the imposing structure would be dismantled to make way for a hotel built like a modern high-rise.
Soon after the decision was made public, heritage-lovers swarmed to social media decrying the move, with many declaring it “absolutely shocking” and some even a “hare-brained decision.”
Some of them even cited the state government’s older decision, taken a few years ago, to convert the palace into a “heritage hotel” and asked why it discarded the widely-reported old plan.
Historians, conservationists, and ordinary citizens of the country have since vehemently opposed the decision and appealed to authorities to preserve and restore the “architectural icon” and not raze a veritable “pride of Patna and the country.”
Ironically, the Sultan Palace finds a mention in the 2008 Bihar government publication “Patna: A Monumental History”.
“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 that spans more than four acres.
The palace, located on the historic Gardiner Road (now Beer Chand Patel Road) near R-Block area, was built in 1922 by the renowned barrister of Patna, Sir Sultan Ahmed, who also briefly served as a judge in the Patna High Court and 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.
Citizens in early August had taken their protest online, trending #SaveSultanPalace to highlight the vulnerability of the historic landmark.
With PTI inputs