You have seen them on the streets controlling traffic or rushing in to maintain law and order but now you will find Kolkata Police in a new role, that of protector of heritage monuments. No, it is not part of a new job profile for the force but a social responsibility that Kolkata Police have taken up voluntarily, restoring their ‘heritage buildings’ and breathing a new life into these crumbling structures. Only few people are aware that Kolkata Police, a historical institution themselves, occupy a number of dilapidated heritage buildings. Instead of abandoning these structures to their fate and moving out to new modern buildings they have decided to adopt these grand edifices and undertake restoration work with their own funds. Kolkata Police, in their new avatar have so far restored four grand mansions which are not only architecturally beautiful but also have a story to tell.
Since 2011, Mr Soumen Mitra, Special Commissioner of Police, who is not only a student of History but also passionate about heritage, is spearheading the restoration drive. “As one of the oldest organisations in the city, it is our pride that we possess such built up heritage and it is our moral duty to preserve such marvels of architecture,” said Mr Mitra. Apart from instilling a sense of pride among the force, these are indeed gifts to the citizens of Kolkata.
“No other government organisation is spread all over the city as we are and in possession of so many old structures.
Significantly, Kolkata Police have proved that restoration of old buildings do not require huge sums of money. Restorations were done utilizing the available resources at their disposal, that is, from the Police buildings maintenance fund.
“Roping in the right experts and good project management skills ensure that we need not dig deep in our pocket to restore heritage buildings” explained Mr Mitra.
“We are also placing plaques with information about the heritage structures at various police stations across Kolkata in a bid to make our citizens aware of our rich history. The plaques will also contain historical background of the locality” said the special commissioner.
Apart from this, Kolkata Police have also converted a section of the Traffic Police building in Lal Bazaar into a pleasant lounge for visitors and named it ‘The Harmonic’- yet another attempt to preserve Kolkata’s history for posterity. Interestingly, the name Harmonic was derived from the famous Harmonic Tavern which was situated there during the days of the East India Company and frequented by the cream of Calcutta’s elite society. The premises of Kolkata Police headquarters of course stands at the same place as John Palmer’s house. Palmer was known as the ‘Prince of Merchants’.
Standing guard to these beautiful monuments of the past, Kolkata Police has truly turned a new leaf.
Houses restored by Kolkata Police
The Bhawal House on Ripon Street was the first among the old buildings to be restored. Its significance lies in the fact that Mejokumar Ramendra Narayan Roy of ‘Sanyasi Raja’ fame stayed in this house which belonged to Bororani Sarajubala Devi while he fought protracted legal battles with his wife. The restoration work was undertaken in the year 2011 and it won the ‘KMC – INTACH Award for the best restored project for that year.
The semi-circular building that houses the Police Training School of Kolkata Police was originally known as Dollanda House, a mental asylum for natives. ‘Dolandaha’ from which it derived its name was one of the 38 villages that the East India Company was granted on lease in 1717. This building was constructed in 1847 and architecturally is an example of the Panopticon, a type of building designed by Jeremy Bentham where a circular structure with a surveillance house at its centre could keep all inmates fearful of constant surveillance.
Almond House on Canal Street belonged to Sir Abdul Halim Ghuznavi (1876-1953), the zamindar of Delduar, Mymensingh who actively participated in the Freedom Movement. In 1905, he moved a resolution opposing the Partition of Bengal in the Indian National Congress at Banaras and started the United Bengal Company and the Bengal Hosiery Company to popularise Swadeshi Movement. This house had a rich collection of rare books and documents and was also used as a public space for socio-political meetings including several Swarajya Party meetings. Later on it was acquired by Kolkata Police for Sealdah Traffic Guard.
Presently, attempts are on to adopt and restore another historic building, the Duff College. It earlier used to house the Jorabagan Police Station. The building was founded by Alexander Duff, who came to Calcutta as the first missionary of the Church of Scotland to India. In 1847, Duff College shifted to this palatial building at 74, Nimtola Ghat Street. The building has Tuscan style columns in the front. The projecting central wing has a high arched porch and a broad flight of steps leading up to the main central hall on the ground floor. This elegant-looking building is now a crumbling structure and its vast unkempt grounds are used to keep abandoned vehicles.