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Museum facelift for Netaji birthplace

Cuttack, Jan. 23: Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s ancestral house in Cuttack, Janakinath Bhavan, is all set to become a museum of national importance.

After being born here on January 23, 1897, Netaji had spent the first 16 years of his life in the 140-year-old mansion before he went on to study in Presidency College of Calcutta. The double-storied building with 23 rooms at the Oriya Bazar area of Cuttack housed a 25-bed hospital comprising an out-patient department (OPD), a maternity home and a pathology laboratory for the past 50 years.

The hospital as well as the maternity home were today shifted to a spanking new home, adjacent to Janakinath Bhavan, paving the way for the birthplace to be turned into a museum. The Union ministry for culture has already released nearly Rs 75 lakh out of a sanctioned grant of Rs 1.5 crore for the renovation of the birthplace, that would eventually be declared a national monument.

Orissa chief minister Naveen Patnaik inaugurated the maternity home in the new building this evening. The maternity home would be managed by the Netaji Seva Sadan Memorial Trust, which was managing the bhavan so far.

The newly-formed Netaji Birthplace Museum Trust, headed by the chief minister, today formally took control of the historical mansion that had fallen on bad times.

“The only visitors to the premises were local youngsters, who spent their evenings drinking and chatting. You could hardly imagine that this was the birthplace of a great leader,” said Shrikanta Panda, working president of the Netaji Seva Sadan Memorial Trust, which has looked after the maintenance of the museum till now.

But the bhavan would have faded into obscurity had former Orissa chief minister Harekrushna Mahtab not intervened.

The bhavan, spread over an acre, was bought by the Orissa government in 1954 for Rs 75,000 from Bibhabayee Bose, Netaji’s aunt. Bibhabayee, who had come to Orissa in 1954 for disposing off the ancestral house, was met by Mahatab, who coaxed her to sell it to the government.

Following this, Mahtab — father of Biju Janata Dal MP from Cuttack, Bhartruhari Mahtab — formed the Netaji Subhas Seva Sadan Trust Board for maintenance of the building a year later. Parts of the building were later converted into a hospital comprising a maternity home. However, the building has slipped into a state of disrepair and neglect as it has to survive on a shoestring budget of Rs 15,000 a year.

With the Birthplace Memorial Trust now taking over Janakinath Bhavan, a master plan is being prepared with the assistance of the Indian National Trust for Culture and Heritage (INTACH) and the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. The trust has also sought the assistance of the Indian Conservation Institute and the Orissa Art Conservation Centre for chemical treatment of several important letters and photographs of the Netaji household.

Among the photographs are rare ones, such as of Netaji taking the salute of Indian National Army soldiers and talking to Mahatma Gandhi. Efforts are being made to collect other memorabilia connected with Netaji’s life from the National Archives as well as other archives.

The renovation work of the building would be done by the state archaeology department over the next three years.

Panda, who is one of the 14 members of the newly-formed Netaji Birthplace Museum Trust, is a happy man. “Better late than never. Mahtabbabu had tried hard to make it a monument in his lifetime. Thankfully, things have finally moved for the better,” he added.

Ironically, the status of a national monument for Janakinath Bhavan has come at a time when there are nearly half-a-dozen multi-storied apartments nearby, standing as eyesores. While the law on monuments restricts any construction within 100 metres of the protected place, the bhavan has been dwarfed by such apartments.

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