Convert iconic Town Hall into library or museum: Himachal HC

Shimla, Dec 14 (IANS) After the facelift of Town Hall, an iconic British-era structure in Shimla, it can be used either as a museum or a library rather than leaving it at the mercy of the “babus” by allowing a public office to run from there, the Himachal Pradesh High Court has observed.

It asked the Chief Secretary on Wednesday to file an affidavit by January 3, the next date of hearing, regarding the utilisation of Town Hall, which is being restored with an outlay of Rs 8 crore.

Hearing a petition, a division bench of Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice Sandeep Sharma observed: “Undoubtedly, it is an important and significant landmark of the town. Intrinsically, it is part of its heritage.”

“It’s in this backdrop, we are of the considered view that a decision must be taken with regard to proper use of the building after its restoration.

“Perhaps it can be used for housing a library and other public conveniences, rather than leaving it at the mercy of the ‘babus’ for nailing the restored wooden panels and work of art only for the purposes of hanging the annual calendars or pasting the same all over the walls,” they said.

Without mincing words, the judges said they had seen with the restoration of an adjoining historical building, i.e. the Gaiety Theatre, activities of art and culture had improved and increased manifold.

Performers and artists have now got a platform to exhibit their talent. Not only the locals but even the tourists are benefiting. Also, the Department of Art and Culture is generating revenue for maintenance of the building.

“Perhaps in larger public interest, it (Town Hall) would be served by setting up a museum or library in the building,” the bench said, noting that its renovation would be over by June 2018.

Quoting a Supreme Court order, they said an attempt was made to convert another historical landmark in Shimla, named the Viceregal Lodge, into a hotel.

The majestic Viceregal Lodge is currently home to the Indian Institute of Advanced Study.

Tracing the Town Hall history, the court said it was actually designed as New Library and Offices by Scottish architect James Ransome.

Except for some public utility offices, essentially the building was used for the purposes of a library.

In fact, the original building, designed as a library, was constructed in 1908. After India’s partition some of the offices of the Municipal Corporation were housed in it.

Considering the building as a “priceless architectural marvel”, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) funded its restoration. “The character and status of the building undoubtedly is that of a heritage property,” the bench added.

The Town Hall building in the half-timbered Tudor style — all-wooden frames and shingled eaves — housed the Shimla Municipal Corporation before it underwent restoration.

Its exteriors and interiors would be refurbished by polishing and repairing the stone work. The windows and rooftops would be totally replaced and the Gothic facade would be improved, say officials involved in its restoration.

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