Controversy over Lalbagh's heritage library renovation

Controversy over Lalbagh's heritage library renovation

INTACH unhappy with hiring of contractor with “limited aesthetic sense” 

The heritage library and director’s residence near the floral clock in Lalbagh will soon become the centre of attraction. It is being renovated for the first time after it was constructed in 1854.

But, the renovation of the heritage structure has run into controversy because of certain contractual and engineering problems. 

The Indian National Trust For Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), the project consultants, are now holding meetings with the Public Works Department (PWD), to resolve a few issues. 

INTACH members are said to be unhappy with PWD which hired a contractor having “limited aesthetic sense” and can deal only with cement structures and not with lime mortar, which is used in the construction of colonial buildings.

The flooring and walls are unique and if cement is used or even mixed with lime mortar the entire structure might get affected. All this should be kept in mind while renovating buildings, they added. 

Furthermore, the on-site engineer has also been changed because he was unaware of dealing with such structures, PWD sources said.

According to INTACH, they approached the Horticulture department four years ago to renovate three dilapidated buildings - library, aquarium and training centre, when they saw tree branches, creepers and other plants growing on their roofs.

They observed that library roofs were damaged and due to this there were leakages and water was seeping into the walls and spoiling the structure. 

Also, additions which were made to the original structure over the years, like toilet and installation of cables, were not done appropriately. But, restoration work at a cost of Rs 39.5 lakh began only in March first week.

“We have given details to the Horticulture department on how the structures should be restored and we are coordinating with them. There are some litigations with the contractor and talks are on with PWD on this. We hope to resolve them at the earliest,” said an INTACH member. 

The member pointed that the library was a good example of colonial architecture. It has typical colonial features and they are visible at the verandah and windows. 

The building has three types of roofs - Madras terrace, Jack Arch terrace and regular slopping roof. The whole area, including the building and the garden surrounding, is spread across two acres. It has a servant quarters, a horse carriage way and a walking area. This was how it was maintained till the British era. 

Aquarium next

The Horticulture department officials maintained: “Restoration will be done as directed by INTACH. The aesthetics of the building will not be tampered. There are a few minor problems which are being resolved. We are keen to complete the work within six months. We want a large number of visitors to visit the library and add to the collection, after it is thrown open to public. Later, the work on the aquarium, which was shut down 25 years ago, will start. It will be then handed over to the Fisheries department.” 

A majority of the building houses the library and only one room is being used as the director’s residence. Surprisingly, not many are aware of the library’s existence. 

When operational, it had not more than 20 visitors per day, mostly comprising senior citizens, philanthropists, environmentalists, researchers and students. It was constructed in 1854 and was the residence of superintendent in-charge of Lalbagh, managing the 240-acre area. 

The library houses over 7,000 books, over 7,000 journals which have been converted into bound volumes, over 1,000 botanical water colour paintings and over 4,000 photographs of visitors including Prince Charles, Mysore kings, Tipu Sultan and other prominent historic figures. 

A book published in 1835 on gardens and horticulture will be the highlight of the library, once the library is renovated and digitised, the Horticulture department official added.

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