British-era Town Hall to relive history, become tourist attraction

New Delhi, Dec 23: The capital’s British-era Town Hall in old Delhi is to be converted into an international tourist destination, complete with a museum, food court, souvenir shops, library and an open air theatre where families can have “wholesome entertainment and learning”.

“To Live the History” is the tag line given to the North Delhi Municipal Corporation’s (NDMC) ambitious project of renovating the 150-year-old landmark building in Chandni Chowk in the walled city, close to the Red Fort.

“We don’t want you to experience the space, but we want you to live the history,” Mayank Sharma, North Corporation’s additional commissioner and chairman of the project, told IANS.

“This is why we have given it this tag line. As we feel, this will be the place where one can go with the family and spend an entire day there and indulge in many activities. Children would go back to playing old games like ‘kancha’ and ‘gilli danda’,” he added.

The museum would showcase artefacts, jewellery and clothes from the Mughal era, and, according to Sharma, sourcing these items would initially involve active engagement with people from different museums.

“We will have experts from culture, history, museology, sculpture and art. They would make a plan on how and from where to source these artefacts from, or what all should be there in the museum,” he said, adding these developments will take some time before they materialise.

“We don’t want to make it your typical museum. It will be quite a bit different. Museum will be such that it looks like a gallery. The idea is to draw more crowd and create curiosity and love for history amongst people, especially children,” he added.

The building will also house children’s activity rooms, an open air cafe, sound and light shows, food and ‘haat bazaars’ on a 16 acre-spread to offer “wholesome entertainment” to families.

“There isn’t any place in the city where people can have wholesome entertainment. We have started this project catering to people’s needs and provide them a space that is international by all standards,” he said, adding that the North Corporation is not replicating any international model for the project.

“We are developing our own model using best international practices,” he said.

One of the best known landmarks of Chandni Chowk, it was built in1860 on the site of Begum ki Sarai and Bagh, which had been built by Jahanara, the daughter of Shahjahan and Mumtaz Mahal. After what was called the ‘sepoy mutiny’ of 1857 against British rule, the buildings in it were demolished to build the present structure as an educational and cultural centre, and it was called the Lawrence Institute.

It was bought by the Delhi municipality in 1866. This yellow-painted brick and stone building was also the seat of the undivided Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) till a few years back.

“It was our building so we decided to begin our revamping plan with it. There is an interesting history to it. Though we would like to restore many other British era buildings, but we first have to finish this project,” Sharma mentioned.

This project has also received a nod from the union ministry of tourism that has agreed to provide muscle to it.

“The project report was approved and the tourism ministry too has agreed to give us Rs.50 crore to develop this model. It will take six to eight months till we are through with the paper work and forming teams,” Sharma said, adding once the paperwork is complete they will take three years to finish the project.

“The renovation work is divided into two phases: the first will include revamping of Town Hall and converting its nearby Press Building into a boutique hotel. This is where the initial money will be invested,” he said. The second phase will include redevelopment of small buildings in the nearby vicinity.

The biggest challenge, said Sharma, is to deliver and live up to the commitment he has made to the people. “We don’t want to compromise on the quality. We have made a big statement and we’d better deliver it,” he said.

“We also thought of changing the name of the Town Hall, but after many meetings we decided to stick to this iconic name,” he added.

IANS