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Row over Curzon gate statue plan

The Gate built between 1902- 1903 on the occasion of the coronation of Maharaja Bijoy Chand and initially known as ‘Bijoy Toron’ was rechristined as Curzon Gate after George Nathaniel Curzon, the Viceroy of India visited the royal palace in 1904. According to a section of the local residents, it bears the mark of the Maharaja’s ‘absolute loyalty’ to the British Empire.

Kanchan Siddiqui |

The Burdwan municipality plans to install statues of the Bardhaman Maharaja Bijoy Chand Mahatab and his queen Radharani in front of Burdwan’s iconic Curzon Gate, a heritage structure, which has sparked off a controversy in the town as addition, alteration and modification close to any heritage site is prohibited.

The Gate built between 1902- 1903 on the occasion of the coronation of Maharaja Bijoy Chand and initially known as ‘Bijoy Toron’ was rechristined as Curzon Gate after George Nathaniel Curzon, the Viceroy of India visited the royal palace in 1904. According to a section of the local residents, it bears the mark of the Maharaja’s ‘absolute loyalty’ to the British Empire.

The Municipality was planning to unveil the statues on 20 August where the descendants of the royal family will be present. Khokon Das, the MLA Burdwan (South), after installing a Biswa Bangla logo at the Curzon Gate premises, has been guiding the civic body about the installation of the statues. The Curzon Gate was declared a heritage site on 28 February, 2006 by the West Bengal Heritage Commission. Das said: “We’ve taken consent for the installation of the statues. All precautions to protect the Gate’s integrity are also taken.” The gate arch is supported by eight circular columns.

Three female figurines, with swords, boats and sheaves of corn in their hands on the arch signify the progress in agriculture and commerce. The structure was constructed by masonry experts from Italy. Since 1974, the Gate is maintained by the state Public Works Department. The Municipality’s venture to install the statues needed digging to a depth of five feet within a distance of four feet of the Gate’s columns on both sides. DK Palit and Gopa Sen, the consultant designers of the West Bengal Heritage Commission told The Statesman: “The excavation close to the Gate might cause harm to the structure. We don’t think such modification to the heritage site is allowed at all.”

The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958 prohibits any construction within 100 metres of a historical building or structure accorded protection under the Law. Umapada Chatterjee, Secretary, West Bengal Heritage Commission told The Statesman: “Such restrictions are imposed on the structures protected by the Archaelogical Survey of India. But, Curzon Gate doesn’t have the ASI cover.” He added: “We haven’t imposed any restriction on Curzon Gate as yet.”

The secretary, Bardhaman Heritage Association, Sarbajit Josh said: “The Burdwan Municipality had a heritage committee but that was defunct since 2011. Several times we’ve made appeals for restoration of a committee to the civic body and to the district administration, but all remained unheard.” About the ‘modification’ of the Gate, he said: “The Gate’s base columns are planted 60 feet deep. I don’t think the fresh excavation may cause harm to the structure.”