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MCD brings in experts for big Town Hall revamp in Delhi | Latest News Delhi

MCD brings in experts for big Town Hall revamp in Delhi | Latest News Delhi

The Municipal Corporation of Delhi is collaborating with the Aga Khan Trust to restore of the Town Hall building at Chandni Chowk even as the civic body has roped in the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) to develop a municipal museum and conserve rare documents and artefacts, officials said on Tuesday.

The Delhi Town Hall building in Chandni Chowk. (HT Archive)

The construction of the Town Hall building at Chandni Chowk was completed in 1866, and the municipality operated from the iconic building for 145 years till 2011-12 before shifting to the new municipal headquarters at the Civic Centre on Minto Road.

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The building has since been lying vacant with some portions damaged due to lack of maintenance. Now, officials said, the civic body not only plans to restore the original structure but also develop a municipal museum in the old Press building section of the complex.

A senior MCD official associated with the restoration project said that the work has started on restoration of the Town Hall building as well as conserving rare artefacts that will be displayed in the municipal museum.

“A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) has been signed with IGNCA for the restoration of artefacts and rare documents which are in MCD’s possession for the last 160 years. There are hundreds of artefacts which are in very poor condition, and they have been taken out from storage. IGNCA has the expertise in restoring them as they have carried out similar projects. After restoration, the artefacts will be displayed in the MCD museum,” the official who spoke on condition of anonymity added.

Even as the municipal museum project will be steered by IGNCA, a second MOU has been signed for the restoration of the Town hall building complex with the Aga Khan Trust which had also worked on conservation of Humanyu’s Tomb and Sunder Nursery and both the projects will proceed simultaneously, a second MCD official said.

This official said that the Aga Khan Trust has carried out the survey of the Town Hall building to assess the damage, weak portions and scale of strengthening required. “Based on this survey, they will submit a report which will be the basis of the estimate required for executing the restoration project. The Aga Khan Trust will carry out the consultancy and MCD will implement the project,” the official added.

MCD says that the survey report is expected to be finalised in 1-2 months, and the overall project may take nine to 10 months to complete.

“The heritage buildings need specific interventions. We can’t use modern plaster and techniques to restore the building. For instance, we will have to deploy similar lime mixtures which were used during the construction of the building. The Trust will guide us to execute specialised works,” the official added.

To be sure, this is not the first attempt by MCD to restore the Town Hall complex. Several plans have been floated since 2012 to turn the building into a museum, library and hotel. Last year, the civic body planned to seek help from the Union ministry of culture to restore the building. Earlier, the erstwhile North MCD floated tenders to invite private players to turn the heritage structure into a hotel. However, all these plans were never executed.

Ratish Nanda, CEO, Aga Khan Trust for Culture India, said: “We have a longstanding partnership with MCD of almost 20 years. To support their efforts, we are preparing the conservation plan for the Town Hall building. It will be submitted in two weeks.”

Sohail Hashmi, a chronicler of Delhi’s history and heritage conservationist, said that the site of Town Hall used to host the caravan sarai of Begum Jahanara, and when the British took over the city, they wanted to remove the symbol of powers belonging to the Mughal empire. “The caravan sarai of Begum Jahan Ara was razed and the Begum ka Bagh was renamed as Company Bagh. The caravan sarai was replaced by a new building which then housed the Delhi Institute which had a library on the ground floor and a club for the Europeans on the first floor. Later, it was named as Town Hall,” he said.

The Municipal Corporation of Delhi, which was constituted in 1863, bought the building from various people who contributed money for the construction for 1,35,457 in 1866, senior officials of the MCD’s Heritage Cell said.

Hashmi said that in 2012, after being approached by MCD, he along with historian Narayani Gupta, conservation activist Anisha Shekhar and food expert Rahul Verma, jointly submitted a proposal to turn sections of Town Hall building into a library, restaurant, cultural centre and a boutique hotel. “The plan was to turn the ground floor into a library focusing on city history with collection of all books published about Delhi and its people. The Europeans had a club on first floor so we had proposed restaurants and site for regular food festivals. A space was earmarked for holding public concerts and musical events and the Chowki building in the Town Hall complex was to be turned into a boutique hotel. But the plan was put into the cold storage after the change of government in 2014. The plan would’ve ensured continuity, with activities that were happening in the building in the early days,” he added.

According to the latest proposal, the MCD plans to convert the Old Press building into a municipal museum, tracing the 160 years of evolution of the city and the municipality.

An MCD official said that the corporation has a number of printing presses which were imported from London. “We are working on turning the ‘Press building’ into the municipal museum of Delhi. Before the Delhi government was set up, the Town Hall complex was used to receive the visiting foreign dignitaries. We have a collection of signatures and messages written by these dignitaries such as Zhou Enlai writing “Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai in 1956to messages from Queen Elizabeth’s royal tour in 1961,” the official added.

MCD’s heritage cell is coordinating the setting up of the museum which will have several galleries — municipal artefacts and souvenirs from other countries, evolution of the municipal press, rare paintings, tickets and banners for public messages ranging from vaccination before 1948 Kumbh Mela to framing guidelines for birth registration.

MCD to display the rare Wilson Report at proposed museum

Senior municipal officials said the “Wilson Papers” are the first tranche of rare municipal documents that have been handed over to the IGNCA for restoration.

An official associated with the project said that “Wilson Papers” are part of the “Wilson Survey Report” that was commissioned by the MCD in 1910-11. The report, according to officials, is a compilation of maps and drawings of the city of Shahjahanabad.

“The entire batch of maps and drawings related to the Wilson Papers has been handed over to the IGNCA experts for restoration. The sheets were found in our storage. These papers are more than a century old and need extra care,” the official added.

Delhi Archives of the Delhi government in 2021 tried to obtain the “Wilson Survey Report 1910-11”. But the department could not procure it. MCD officials said that the “Wilson Report” has 200-odd sketches made by the then British town planner JW Wilson as part of a survey of the Walled City. The survey was commissioned by the MCD.

The official said that the survey formed the blueprint for town planning of the city in later decades.

“For decades, the survey served as an authorised reference for city administration. The aim of the survey was to record the design and architecture of Shahjahanabad. The sketches are comprehensive with every plot being marked and an outline of the drainage system,” the MCD official said.

The sketches in the report will be displayed in the proposed MCD museum that will come up at the Town Hall, the official added.

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