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Seven decades later, MCD revives journal on city life | Latest News Delhi


More than sedven decades after it was last published, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) has revived its official publication, The Town Hall Journal, which will focus on the evolution of the city, its governance structure over the last 160 years, and its heritage buildings, senior civic officials aware of the matter said.

The name of the publication is derived from the Town Hall building at Chandni Chowk, the former headquarters of the municipality, which was developed as the “Delhi Institute” in 1860s (HT Photo)

The heritage cell of the civic body on Tuesday released the first edition of the journal, a bilingual and bimonthly publication, available in both print and online versions, on the corporation’s website. The journal traces the city’s history from the events in the immediate aftermath of first war of India’s independence in 1857, and the changes it brought to the city with Mughals being replaced by the British as the country’s rulers, the officials said.

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The name of the publication is derived from the Town Hall building at Chandni Chowk, the former headquarters of the municipality, which was developed as the “Delhi Institute” in 1860s. The Town Hall and Northbrook Clock Tower (Ghanta Ghar) served as the space for the seat of local government and symbol of new administration in its nascent stages, officials of the MCD heritage cell said.

During Mughal rule, the site earlier used to host the caravanserai of princess Jahanara Begum — the daughter of Shah Jahan — said Sanjeev Kumar Singh, a member of MCD heritage cell, the department behind reviving the journal.

Singh said the local government first started publishing the Institute Journal in 1861 (the Town Hall building was then called the Delhi Institute) but it was discontinued.

“Later, after Independence, the municipality started publishing a weekly publication called Rajdhani in 1952, but it was also discontinued. The idea behind these publications was to inform the citizens about the new governance structure that came into force after 1857, as well as the new rules and regulations,” Singh said.

Civic officials could not tell the exact year when the two publications went out of print. However, they said last available copies of Rajdhani date back to 1952.

Rajdhani was published from the old Press building located next to the central Town Hall complex. It was a weekly and had editions in English, Hindi and Urdu.

“In its new avatar, The Town Hall Journal will focus on the evolution of the city over the last 160 years and the local body structure which developed after the Mughal rule and the heritage buildings in the city,” he said.

The first edition of the journal has been published and each edition will have five to six articles, covering the story of Delhi with a focus on local governance, and rare pictures and documents from MCD’s archives, said Singh.

“The local self-governance started to gain importance after the 1857 mutiny when local bodies started forming in cities across India. The British started playing a direct role in governance after the Mughal rule faded. The first meeting of the members of Delhi municipality was held on June 1, 1863 which was presided over by Colonel G.W. Hamilton who was the first commissioner of municipality. Municipal corporation is perhaps the only institution which has seen Delhi changing and taking new colours over the last 160 years,” Dr Aqil Ahmed, member secretary of the cell. said.

The Press building where these journals, gazettes and government documents were published is being converted into a museum to showcase the artefacts and documents, Singh said.

The first edition of the journal has articles themed on Delhi through the eyes of municipal corporation, Delhi immediately after 1857 revolt, the concept of town halls, and preserving heritage, Singh said.

It speaks about the destruction in the Walled city after the 1857 war for independence, the reinstatement of civilian administration on January 11, 1858 and transfer of Delhi division from North Western provinces to Punjab on February 9, 1958, he added.

The civic body says it will expand the scope of the publication in the coming months.

Singh explained that the initial years of the local body saw many regulations being introduced such as the concept of civic services. In 1863, the sanitation and conservancy system was set up, public toilets were constructed for the first time; a Unani dispensary was opened in Sadar Bazar, and registration of births and deaths was introduced.

The period between 1863 and 1874 saw small-scale industrial and commercial expansion. The Clock Tower and the Town Hall buildings (Delhi Institute) were constructed by then. A firefighting system was introduced in 1867 with one fire engine was stationed at Kotwali. Another engine was brought from England after nine years. As the ground water was not found fit for consumption in old Delhi, potable water was supplied through water carts in 1871-72, Singh added.

“The new governance and civic structure evolved over subsequent decades with additions in the form introduction of ‘ilaka’ system ( a precursor to municipal wards),” the official said.

Dr Ahmed said the subsequent editions will see stories around 1,300heritage buildings and monuments which have been documented by MCD’s heritage cell. “We also plan to hold heritage walks in the comings months to tell the stories around places such as Daryaganj, Town Hall complex, parts of Mehrauli and other areas having heritage buildings,” he said.

Singh said that readers and people who have knowledge about the heritage of Delhi can contribute to the journal and submit their entries to the corporation at [email protected].

Sohail Hashmi, chroniclers of Delhi’s history, filmmaker and heritage conservationist, said that the site of Town Hall used to host the caravan saarai of Begum Jahanara and when the British took over the city, they wanted to remove the symbols of Mughal power. Earlier, the city spread in the East-West direction with the Yamuna river, the Red Fort and Lahori Gate with Chandni Chowk acting as the most common throughfare in the city.

“The Britsh wanted to shift the axis of the city and they brought railways in the North setting up Old Delhi Railway station for which huge space was vacated. The focus of the city was to be shifted in North-South axis, the caravan sarai of Begum Jahan Ara was razed and the Begum ka Bagh became Company Bagh. They also built the Nai Sarak to cut through the heart of the city for better policing. The Sarai was replaced by this building housing a library and club for Europeans where the municipality later built the Town Hall,” he said.

He added that in 2012, he, along with historian, conservation activist and food experts had jointly submitted the proposal to turn parts of Town Hall into library, restaurants, cultural centre and boutique hotel but the plan went into cold storage after the central government changed in 2014. “The plan would have ensured continuity with the activities that were happening in the building during the early days,” he added.

Dheeraj Dubey, president of the Walled City residents welfare association, said that four generations of his family have lived in the area. Town Hall used to the centre of political and social activity before the corporation shifted to the Civic Centre in 2012.

“In the pre-independence era, trams used to run along Chandni Chowk in front of the Town Hall and Ghantaghar was used to hoist flags. This was the real city and people from all over Delhi used to come here. Now it lies abandoned and a lot of space around the structure has been encroached. The corporation should also maintain and revive the Hathi Bagh park in the Town Hall complex, which is the biggest available open space in this otherwise congested area.”



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