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Home » Beyond Metros » Shift vintage road roller away from demolition site: Heritage lovers to Patna Museum

Shift vintage road roller away from demolition site: Heritage lovers to Patna Museum

Ragini Bhat, curator at the Heritage Transport Museum, near Gurugram, appealed to the museum authorities to take this matter on an urgent basis.

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Shift vintage road roller away from demolition site: Heritage lovers to Patna Museum

Heritage lovers from various parts of the country have appealed to the museum authorities in Bihar to ”urgently shift” the over a century-old steam road roller and other vintage items away from the demolition site of the historic Patna Collectorate.

From Patna to Kolkata and Delhi to Haryana, history aficionados and antiquity experts, also expressed surprise that authorities had not yet moved elsewhere the rare road roller and other artifacts, despite the fact that demolition in the Collectorate campus is going on for over two months now.

The road roller, manufactured by John Fowler and Co, Leeds, England is currently languishing in an open area in front of the Dutch-era District Engineer’s Office building situated on the banks of the River Ganga, whose elongated east wing was demolished on July 3 to make way for the new Collectorate complex.

”Demolition is going on at Patna Collectorate since mid-May and ideally vintage items should have been shifted before the dismantling was started. But, is heritage on the priority list of the Bihar government, which demolished this Dutch-era heritage despite appeals to save it, from several quarters. But, now that the demolition of almost all buildings in its campus, has happened, why have the authorities not yet shifted the antiquities to the Patna Museum,” asked Aman Lal, 18, a student of Patna College.

Patna Museum has shown interest in acquiring some of the rare heritage items that have come out post demolition, and a team of experts from the museum had visited the Patna Collectorate on July 13 and inspected the steamroller, a unique hanging skylight and a vintage safety vault housed in a room of the District Engineer’s Office building in its sprawling campus.

Several heritage lovers in Patna and elsewhere alleged that authorities are taking ”inordinately long time” in taking the final step on the shifting of those items, despite the fact that the remaining portion of the District Engineer’s Office building ”can be demolished anytime, jeopardising the antique items”.

A senior official said another visit by a Patna Museum team was expected shortly to the demolition site in connection with the planned acquisition of the old items.

Ragini Bhat, curator at the Heritage Transport Museum, near Gurugram, appealed to the museum authorities to take this matter on an urgent basis.

”Such priceless items should be moved immediately away from the demolition site. The John Fowler road roller is very rare and should be proudly showcased. Any museum would be lucky to possess it. Our museum has two old road rollers on display, one of 1914 vintage built by Marshall Company and another of 1950s era made by Tata Telco,” she said.

Steam-fired road rollers like steam locomotives are rarities, and were brought from England in batches during the British Raj for construction of roads in India, according to experts.

Hrithik Kumar, 18, a Patna College student, and a budding artist, who has been part of the citizen-led movement ‘Save Historic Patna Collectorate’ that was fighting since 2016 to save the Collectorate from demolition, recently made a charcoal sketch on paper reimagining how the road roller must have looked in its heydays, and shared it on social media, in an artistic appeal to authorities to preserve it.

”They should immediately and urgently rescue all the vintage items languishing in the Collectorate, and display them in Patna Museum. We couldn’t save the buildings, can we at least salvage something for the next generations,” he said.

Kolkata-based architect Sandipan Chatterjee said he got to know about the steamroller in Patna ”through the efforts being made by the Save Historic Patna Collectorate team to rescue our priceless heritage in peril”.

”I am glad to hear that the museum is planning to shift the road roller and other items to its premises, but wonder what is taking so long. Even till they do the paperwork, can they not keep them away from the demolition site, atleast. I would also urge that once shifting happens, God willing, it should be done under the supervision of experts and with utmost care, as the road roller needs urgent restoration,” said Chatterjee, also associate member of the east zone of global heritage body ICOMOS.

Abhishek Ray, Kolkata-based transport heritage enthusiast, who has hunted these rare vintage relics in the past several years, in various cities in the country, said, ”I have seen old steamrollers in Kolkata and Burdwan, but Patna Collectorate one is really a rare John Fowler, and must be preserved and restored. It’s a gem”.

Ray and other heritage lovers have also appealed to the museum authorities to preserve the vintage items that have come out of demolition of other old structures in the Collectorate campus, like an ornamental spiral staircase and a few safety vaults.

On May 13 this year, the Supreme Court had rejected a plea by heritage body INTACH, which was fighting a legal battle since 2019 to save the historic landmark from demolition, paving the way for the demolition of the Patna Collectorate complex, triggering a wave of grief among heritage lovers in India and abroad.


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