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Laxmi Nivas hits apathy wall

- Indo-German agencies stop renovation after funds freeze

More than a century old, Laxmi Nivas was touted as Jharkhand’s flagship conservation project. Now, eight months after an ambitious attempt at renovation was launched, the heritage building has, sadly, become yet another showpiece of the state’s institutionalised inefficiency.

Work at the red-brick architectural edifice built by a zamindar of Bengal in 1905 and located on the state agriculture department’s premises in Kanke has come to a halt due to unpaid dues, embarrassing the state in front of overseas experts roped in for the job.

Restoration work began at Laxmi Nivas in April last year. The state agriculture department sanctioned funds to the tune of Rs 2.40 crore, which were to be released in phases.

An Indo-German agency, Knospe & Co, along with Polish conservation experts Miriam M. Owsinski and Renata Bronka, were chosen by the government for the job.

Further, since the agriculture department was short-staffed, it entrusted the engineering cell of the building construction department to co-ordinate and supervise the project.

“The project began on a good note. International experts were in awe of this structure and were very excited to take up the job. The first two or three months saw work going on in full swing. However, slowly it lost pace,” said an on-site source at Laxmi Nivas at Krishi Bhavan on Tuesday.

A Knospe & Co official said that more than 50 per cent work was complete, but the remaining was stuck for want of funds from the government.

“We have invested about Rs 60 lakh so far,” he said. “This includes payments for contractors, labourers and some of the restoration work. We have been running from table to table for payments, but the state agriculture department is unmoved,” he added.

The 10,000sqft, double-storeyed building was taken over by the agriculture department of undivided Bihar. After the formation of Jharkhand and after historians and conservationists appealed for its restoration over the years, the state finally okayed an initiative last year.

The idea was to restore Laxmi Nivas to its original form, convert it into an agriculture museum and resource centre and develop it as a tourist spot.

The plan, say experts associated with the project, is great.

So far, cracks on walls and ceilings have been sealed, trees and shrubs cleared, windows repaired, while work is on to clean and restore murals.

“All this needs to be done with precision and great expertise so that originality remains intact,” said the Knospe official, underlining the complex nature of work.

S.D. Singh, former state convener of INTACH and among the experts involved with the project, was scathing, pointing to how the government’s unprofessional outlook earned Jharkhand a bad name.

“It is very disturbing when you don’t get required cooperation from the government. The files related to funds are pending for long. A lot has been accomplished, but still a lot more needs to be done, like laying of arches and roofs, decorations, internal plastering etc,” he said.

Building construction department executive engineer P.K. Singh sounded helpless. “Bills to the tune of over Rs 60 lakh are lying in my office but we cannot make any payment as not a single paise has come in from the agriculture department till date. How can we ask the agency to carry on work? So they stopped,” he said.

Agriculture secretary Nitin Madan Kulkarni said they were looking into the matter and hoped funds would be in place within a week. “There were some technical problems which delayed funds release. It is expected to get sorted out within a couple of days after which funds will be released within a week’s time. Whatever pending bills are there will be cleared,” he said.

Do you think renovation will resume anytime soon?

Tell ttkhand@abpmail.com