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50 years on, historic Bradlaugh Hall gets a quiet burial

It was approved years before Chandigarh became the capital of Punjab. Now, 50 years after land was allotted for the iconic Bradlaugh Hall in Sector 15, the grand idea is all set to be consigned to history.

punjab Updated: Jan 11, 2017 16:25 IST
Arvind Chhabra
The plot adjoining the Punjab Congress Bhawan at Sector 15 that was to be turned into a four-storey building.
The plot adjoining the Punjab Congress Bhawan at Sector 15 that was to be turned into a four-storey building.(Sanjeev Sharma/HT)

It was approved years before Chandigarh became the capital of Punjab. Now, 50 years after land was allotted for the iconic Bradlaugh Hall in Sector 15, the grand idea is all set to be consigned to history.

After many attempts to revive and resume the site over these decades, the UT administration has finally taken over possession of the land. It is now contemplating what it should set up in place of the historic building, which was originally established in Lahore in the late 19th century.

“We have resumed the site and have handed over possession to the chief engineer,” said an official at the Estate Office, adding that the UT finance secretary had, some months ago, sought the status of the site and it has been conveyed to him as well. “What comes up at the site is a matter for senior officers to decide,” he said.

Exactly 50 years ago in 1967, the UT estate officer issued the letter of allotment to the Bradlaugh Hall Trust which had its office at the Mathura Road in New Delhi. However, the project simply appeared jinxed despite the administration generously giving extensions to the trust to complete the project. Several chief ministers and governors were also associated with the project.

The two-acre site was sold for Rs 12,000 at a “concessional rate” of Rs 6,000 per acre. The Punjab Cabinet Sub- Committee on the Capital, in its meeting held on July 1, 1954 had approved the allotment of land to the trust. One of the conditions of allotment of land mandated that the construction on the site must start within three months and must be completed within a year of allotment.

Extension after extension

The possession of land was given to the trust in 1968, but the trust did not start construction for years. For several years the authorities sat on the project. In April 1977, it sent resumption notice and then followed up with six more notices in nine months. The land was resumed.

Then on the trust’s request, the then EO wrote to trust’s secretary Jagat Narain (Congress leader and founder of a Jalandhar-based newspaper group) allowing extension. The then chief administrator, Sewa Singh, restored the site to the trust and allowed extension in 1980.

Nothing happened for next two years and the administration again started resumption proceedings. In the early 1990s, the trustees sought permission to start construction. They said the delay was because of killing of Jagat Narain’s son and trust secretary Ramesh Chander by terrorists.

“All necessary papers were with him and couldn’t be traced earlier,” they wrote. Former Punjab chief minister Darbara Singh, another trustee, couldn’t devote time to the project being the CM, they added.

The administration vacated its resumption order and also allowed extension to the trust in 1992.

Several extensions were granted, the last being in 1999 on payment of extension fee of Rs 14 lakh. Still the construction didn’t begin. In 2003, the estate officer resumed the site. This again triggered appeals and then a court case. All these, however, failed to find any favour and were dismissed.

Bradlaugh hall in Lahore

Built on the Rattigan Road Lahore, the Bradlaugh Hall played host to almost all the notable leadership of India, particularly for political figures in undivided Punjab. A hallmark of the anti-colonial freedom movement in the subcontinent, the building is reportedly crumbling now. The hall has been a famous place for political sessions, receptions to visiting leaders, and literary sittings or mushairas. It was constructed in memory of Charles Bradlaugh, a British MP and a supporter of the Indian freedom movement.

Supposed to be a four-storey building

In 1998, a detailed plan was finalised for the Bradlaugh Hall building, modeled on the New Delhi’s India International Centre. The plan was to have a composite block of two buildings — a four storey and a single-storey building, with a library, lounge and an office on the ground floor. An auditorium, common room, restaurant, bar, multipurpose hall and cyber media centre were also planned at a cost of Rs 10 crore.