After Currency Building, in the heart of the city, three more sites are set to don the tag of ‘monuments of national importance’. Asiatic Society, the Bethel Synagogue and the David Maghen Synagogue, all more than 200 years old, have been selected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) for the honour. The decision follows Governor Viren J. Shah’s crusade to preserve the heritage of Calcutta.
According to mayor Subrata Mukherjee, ASI representatives have already met the municipal architect and officials of the civic town planning department to collect the relevant documents relating to the three buildings. “Final notifications have been issued for taking over Currency Building and The Asiatic Society of India. For the other two buildings, we have only just issued the preliminary notification,” said ASI superintending archaeologist D. Bandopadhyay.
Currency Building, in BBD Bag (East), housed the nation’s first Reserve Bank and is where currency notes were first printed in the country. Bethel Synagogue, on Canning Street, and the David Maghen Synagogue, on Pollock Street, in the Burrabazar area, are to be taken over for preservation of their historical and architectural significance.
“The synagogues are maintained by members of the Jewish community. It’s a small community that is dwindling. David Nahoum, Jewish Organisation secretary, asked us to take over these synagogues,” said Bandopadhyay. Senior officers pointed out that there are only a few Jews in the city now and the synagogues are used primarily for prayers and marriages. “Considering the dwindling numbers of the community in the city, I think it is wise on the part of the ASI to take over and maintain these structures,” said mayor Mukherjee.
Parts of the synagogue property have been encroached upon by small shops and establishments. Asked whether the ASI planned to evict these encroachers after the takeover, Bandopadhyay said: “It isn’t easy to evict people. But something will have to be done once the formalities have been completed.
Nahoum, when contacted, acknowledged the takeover move, but refused further comment. He said: “ I have given numerous interviews on the takeover. I do not wish to discuss anything further about my place of worship or my community.”
Meanwhile, the ASI has initiated a Rs 20-lakh project to beautify the “external environment" of Asiatic Society. Funds for the project have been deposited in a bank in the first week of January. “Pathways and gardens will be laid on three sides of the building,” explains Dilip Kumar Ghosh, general secretary of the Society. “Another project in the pipeline will focus on restoring the interiors of this magnificent structure. We plan to convert the building into a museum. We want to make it the most attractive and well-maintained heritage building in Calcutta,” Ghosh added.