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Audrey House repairs to start on R-Day

Some strong words from the governor can perhaps finally do what years of tall talk have failed to.

Renovation of the crumbling Audrey House, an iconic relic of the pre-Independence era, is expected to kick-start from January 26 with the laying of the foundation stone. But it took a rude snub from a vexed Governor Syed Ahmed for the laggard babus to pull up their socks and announce start of conservation work soon.

“Yes, the foundation stone for renovation will be laid on January 26. Intach is the consultant and it has already prepared the detailed project report. It will now assist us to take up work at the ground level,” deputy commissioner Vinay Kumar Choubey told The Telegraph.

However, he could not recall the total cost but said sufficient funds had been allotted for the job.

Built in 1854 by Captain Hannyington — deputy commissioner of Chotanagpur between 1850 and 1856 — the two-storey edifice used to function as an extension of the governor’s secretariat. The caving roofs, rickety walls, mangled wires, open sockets et al had necessitate urgent repairs with both state art and culture department as well as district administration promising to start renovations several times. However, that never happened with both the departments blaming each other.

Fed up with the delay, Governor Syed Ahmed, who had intervened earlier and sought a report from the state convener of Intach on how and when conservation of the 158-year-old edifice would get underway, summoned the DC and other officials in the last week of December 2012. At the meeting, Ahmed issued a strong act-or-face-action diktat to the officials and pulled up art and culture secretary A.K. Singh.

Aap hamesha bolte hain ho jayega, but hota nahi. Aap karte kya hain? (You always claim that everything will happen, but to no avail. What do you do actually?),” the governor is said to have told Singh.

“Governor saab was very strict this time. So much so that he even admonished the art and culture secretary. He also took administrative officials to task after which they set the January 26 date for work to begin,” said a source who was present at the meeting.

“The governor stressed that the officials cannot wash their hands of the project by just laying the foundation stone. Work should kick off,” he added.

According to Intach state convener S.D. Singh, a detailed project report, prepared around April-May last year, was already in place and if all went well, the project would be completed in nine to 10 months.

“Around Rs 1.5 crore for conservation and another Rs 5.8 crore for development activities are expected to be incurred. A sum of Rs 1.4 crore, sanctioned under the 12th finance commission, is already lying with the DC’s treasury for the past three years while the remaining amount has been approved under the 13th finance commission,” he said.

Singh further said work would be taken up in two phases. “In the first phase, we will conserve the two-storey building while rest of the works will be undertaken in the second phase,” said Singh.

Shedding more light, he added, “The main task will be to retain originality of the building spread across 30,000sqft. The ceilings are three inches thick and supported by thicker wooden beams, but termites have damaged over 70 per cent of them. We have to clear the rot and termites.”

Once conservation is done, a museum, a library-cum-resource centre, an art conservation centre, a convention hall, an open-air theatre of 800 capacity and a rural hut depicting tribal life will be set up.