October 27, 2013

Writers’ Buildings temporarily dethroned as West Bengal’s seat of power

The State Secretariat will move to Howrah while renovation work is carried out at Writers’

For the first time in its history, the buzz of power that reverberates in the corridors of Writers’ Buildings, the West Bengal Secretariat, will fall silent as much of the Secretariat, including the Chief Minister’s office, will move to a new address on the other side of river Hooghly on Saturday.

Though the shift is temporary, the Trinamool Congress’s decision to relocate as many as 11 of its departments out of the historic building in the heart of the city has generated much curiosity.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had announced on August 7 that the relocation would take place as the historic structure, which she said had turned into a “tinderbox,” needed to be renovated and restored.
On Saturday, thousands of State government employees along with the Ministers will shift to the Howrah River Bridge Commissioners (HRBC) Building, a 14-storied high-rise on the banks of the Ganga in the Howrah district.
The entire process of restructuring the HRBC Building, christened ‘Nabanna’ (new crop of paddy), and that of renovating and restoring Writers’, which was constructed in the early 18 century, is estimated to cost the State Exchequer about Rs. 200 crore.
The HRBC Building, which was conceived and set up during the tenure of the previous Left Front government, was to have housed a garment park; now instead it will be the new seat of power of the State government.
A glance at the history of both pre and post- Independent era shows that Writers’ was in private hands till the East India Company bought it in 1854. It has since been one of the most important pieces of architecture in the city and a major landmark.
Historian P.T. Nair said the reddish, customised emulsion that forms Buildings’s exterior was used to bind the red bricks during its construction. That gave the structure, both Gothic and Regal, its trademark red colour.
Like many State employees used to working there, who rue their new address mainly because of infrastructure bottlenecks and lack of facilities such as drinking water, Mr. Nair is also unable to reconcile to the decision to shift the State Secretariat to Howrah.
One consolation could be the State government’s assurance that all statutory bodies concerned will be consulted during the process of restoration and renovation work.
The Department of Architecture at two prominent institutions — Jadavpur University and Bengal Engineering and Science University — have been given the task of preparing a detailed report on the structure’s restoration.

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