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Monday, Nov 18, 2019

Rs 65-crore makeover for Shimla’s Viceregal Lodge

Seven years after it first drew plans to renovate the building atop the Observatory Hill, the ministry of human resource development approved the Rs 65 crore to restore the building.

india Updated: Oct 17, 2019 14:03 IST
Gaurav Bisht
Gaurav Bisht
Hindustan Times, Shimla
The Viceregal Lodge is one of the most-visited places in Shimla with2.15 lakh tourists including it in their itinerary last year alone.
The Viceregal Lodge is one of the most-visited places in Shimla with2.15 lakh tourists including it in their itinerary last year alone. (Deepak Sansta / HT Photo )
         

One of the most majestic Colonial-era buildings in Shimla, the 130-year-old Viceregal Lodge, which was the seat of power during the British Raj, is set to get its most expansive makeover with the Centre approving Rs 65 crore for its repair and renovation.

Shimla was the summer capital of the British and 13 viceroys stayed in at Viceregal Lodge, considered the nerve centre of the British administration, between 1888 and 1946. Lord Dufferin was the first to move in and Lord Mountbatten the last occupant. After Independence, it was rechristened Rashtrapati Niwas and later housed the Indian Institute of Advanced Study (IIAS) that is spread over 110 acres.

Seven years after it first drew plans to renovate the building atop the Observatory Hill, the ministry of human resource development approved the Rs 65 crore to restore the building. “A meeting was held in Delhi recently and the ministry granted approval in principle,” says institute director Makarand Paranjape.

WEATHER-BEATEN

The building was constructed in Jacobean style between 1878 and 1888. The weather has taken a toll but due to paucity of funds, restoration was being carried out in bits and pieces. The central public works department and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) was making do with small-time repairs.

Conservationists say weathering of stones and seepage are immediate concerns. While delamination (or fracturing into layers) of cobbled stones is visible in large parts of the building, repeated alterations have affected the interiors. Extensive water ingress due to leakage is a threat. There are structural cracks in the south face besides in the lower basement floor and service area near the kitchen. Modern fittings in washrooms have led to leakages. “We have carried out repairs from time to time but a lot more needs to be done to restore the building,” says Purnesh Kumar, the CPWD superintendent engineer.

The IIAS is governed by the HRD ministry and its restoration plans were drawn up by the ASI, which comes under the ministry of culture. The proposal to the Centre focused on structural stabilisation and suggested steps to check water ingress. The plan included stone restoration, repair of verandahs, revival of architectural details and restoration of doors and windows. “The kitchen wing needs immediate repair. The executing agency will soon give a presentation of the revamp to the ministry,” says ASI circle superintending archaeologist Aftab Hussain.

TOURISTS KEEP DATE WITH HISTORY

The building is one of the most visited places in Shimla with 2.15 lakh tourists including it in their itinerary last year alone. Most people see it as the venue where the foundation of the Partition of India and Pakistan was laid in 1945. The table where the partition papers were prepared is carved out of walnut wood and displayed in one of the galleries. Leaders, including Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Liaqat Ali Khan, Master Tara Singh and Mohammed Ali Jinnah, attended the Simla conference called by Lord Wavell to find a way out of Jinnah’s insistence for Pakistan. Mahatma Gandhi was in Shimla at that time but he did not attend the meet. In May 1947, Lord Mountbatten discussed the plan for Partition at the same table. Sir Cyril Radcliffe was given two months to chalk out the boundary between India and Pakistan. Radcliffe was optimistic that at the final meeting differences would be resolved but the four members of the commission, comprising two Muslims, a Hindu and a Sikh, disagreed so much that he took it upon himself to do the needful.

The ball room that was the venue for the Simla conference has now been converted into a library.