It has been five years since the district court vacated Vadodara’s iconic landmark, Nyaymandir, to shift to the new court building in Diwalipura in March 2018. This piece of Byzantine architecture served as Vadodara district’s “temple of justice” for 126 years.
The Vadodara Municipal Corporation (VMC) finally received physical possession of the property earlier this month. As such, it has cleared and barricaded the area, as a run-up to its plans for a “heritage corridor” to the centrepiece, the erstwhile Nyaymandir.
All very good till comes in the fact that the area is now a bustling shopping zone, with hawkers, traders, parking lots and the 35-year-old Padmavati Shopping Centre right across Nyaymandir. While commercial establishments were part of the precincts, the interim five years saw a huge mushrooming of shops and retail outlets.
So, now newly-elected BJP MLA Balkrishna Shukla from Raopura constituency, who was the Vadodara mayor in 2008, finds himself at the centre of a contentious issue. The association of shopkeepers of this VMC-built shopping centre has agreed to move out “only if offered proper rehabilitation.” Agreeing to the same, Shukla is reported to have sent a letter to the Municipal Commissioner Banchha Nidhi Pani recommending that the Padmavati Shopping Centre, named after the erstwhile queen of Baroda state, be razed to clear traffic congestion and to develop the area as a heritage spot with Nyaymandir as the centrepiece. This also involves relocating 240 traders.
The VMC had, in 2015, mooted a proposal to convert the structure into a city museum. But with no proper body to assess and preserve the city’s heritage, and an inactive heritage cell, the civic body remains undecided.
While Shukla feels that his recommendation is an ideal win-win situation for all, the VMC is yet to consider the idea, mostly at a loss due to the absence of a heritage cell. “Nyaymandir is one of the most important heritage buildings in the heart of the city. However, being a busy market area, heavy vehicular traffic is a hindrance to the development of the place. VMC should remove the shopping centre, which anyways is a dilapidated structure, and is the cause of traffic snarls in the area. The shopkeepers should be rehabilitated by providing an alternate space for conducting their commercial activities,” Shukla said.
Shukla’s proposal has left the Padmavati traders worried but the members of the association—mostly belonging to the Sindhi community of the city—have decided to support the decision if offered a viable alternative commercial space. Last week, led by Hira Kanjwani, a BJP corporator from the community, representatives of the traders’ association met Pani and expressed their willingness to evict the dilapidated structure should the VMC decide to act on Shukla’s proposal.
Nyaymandir—a two-storeyed, 80,000 square feet Robert Chisholm architecture—has remained shut since March 2018. A cherished gift to the city by Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III, Nyaymandir was originally named Chimnabai Nyaymandir—after the Maharaja’s first wife whose statue by Italian sculptor Augusto Felici adorns the building. At the time of its inauguration on November 30, 1896, by Viceroy Lord Elgin, interestingly, the structure was intended to serve as a two-storeyed vegetable market. But when Maharaja Sayajirao III witnessed the grandeur of the structure, he changed his mind and turned it into a town hall and a court. Built at a cost of Rs 7 lakhs at the time, the Central Hall of the building is decorated with distinct mosaic work. Before Independence, when Gaekwad ruled the erstwhile royal state of Baroda, Nyaymandir was the Supreme Court of the state.
Until 1985, Chimnabai Hall hosted cultural programmes and art exhibitions, mass weddings and community events. The 28 courtrooms were handed over to the judicial system of independent India after Baroda’s last ruler Pratapsinhrao Gaekwad gave his final speech before acceding to the Indian Union from the balcony of the building in 1947.
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