Shimla: concerned for the better utilization of historic Town Hall and to preserve the important heritage building, the Himachal Pradesh High Court has directed the state Chief Secretary to file an affidavit on the utilization of heritage Town Hall building.

The building is being restored, and timeline for completion of the project is likely to be completed before June, 2018, and the Court observed the needs to address the issue urgently, by the Government and that being, as to how best the building can be put to use.

The Court, in a view for proper use of the historic building after its restoration, expressed its view that

“we are of the considered view that a decision must be taken with regard to proper use of the building after its restoration. Perhaps it can be used for housing a Library and other public conveniences, rather than leaving it at the mercy of the “Babus”, for nailing the restored wooden panels and work of art, only for the purposes of hanging the annual calendars or pasting the same all over the walls.”

A division bench comprising acting Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice Sandeep Sharma observed

“we notice that the building, which hitherto before known as ‘Town Hall’, used as office of Municipal Corporation, Shimla, was actually designed as “New Library & Offices” by Scottish Architect Mr. James Ransome. Except for some public utility offices, essentially the building was used for the purposes of Library. In fact, the original building, designed as Library, was constructed in the year 1908. It was only subsequently, much lateron that offices were shifted and after partition of the country, some of the offices of the Municipal Corporation were housed therein.”

The Bench further said: “Considering the “priceless architectural marvel” of the building, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) funded restoration of the building. The character and status of the building, undoubtedly, is that of a heritage property.”

The Hon’ble Court further observed the heritage ‘Town Hall’ building is an important and significant landmark of the town.

The Hon’ble Court also observed that with the restoration of the Gaiety Theatre, activities of art and culture have improved and increased manifold. Performers and artists have now got a platform to exhibit their talent. Not only the locals but even the tourists are being benefited. Also, the Department of Art and Culture, generating revenue for maintenance of the building. The culture of knowing and understanding art, in whatever form, is being picked up by the younger generation and solely on account of the exposure, which both the artists, admirers or criticizers have got. After all, Art and Culture are also true forms of expression of though, which, in our considered view, needs to be propagated, inculcated and promoted, more so amongst the future generation.

Citing Constitutional dictum of Article 51-A (Part-IVA) of the Constitution of India, the Hon’ble Court mandates that it shall be the duty of every citizen of India to value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture.

Listing the matter on January 3, 2018, the Hon’ble Court directed the Chief Secretary to the Government of Himachal Pradesh to file personal affidavit before next date of hearing.

The woodwork of Town Hall building, constructed in 1908 in the half-timbered Tudor style-all-wooden frames and shingled eaves, were decayed and the authority decided to restore the building to its original structure. The plans also got necessary approval from Municipal Corporation, Shimla as well as from Heritage committee with the aim of bringing out the original character of the building. With all concerted effort and a major leg-up from the Asian Development Bank, the work of restoration of the building started in 2016.

The Town Hall building was housing the Shimla Municipal Corporation before it was vacated for restoration work, and shifting of the office of MC Shimla permanently has voiced from many section of the Shimla city. Being situated at the main tourist hotspot The Mall Shimla, it was voiced to convert the building into a museum. However, the Shimla MC has vehemently opposed the idea.

Even the ADB has requested Department of Tourism and Civil Association to firm up on the use of building, upon completion and emphasized to put building for public purposes and should not be used for any office purposes and use of building should be in line with the objectives of the Project outcomes. The Department has already taken up the issue of use of building with the Govt.

Shimla Town Hall

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Rahul Bhandari is Editor of TheNewsHimachal and has been part of the digital world for last 15 years.