A stitch in time

Rashtrapati Niwas in Shimla is being given a facelift by the ASI, reports Rajesh C. Bali

The cracks in this magnificent structure are getting a Swiss fill-up.
The cracks in this magnificent structure are getting a Swiss fill-up.

The Rashtrapati Niwas, formerly known as Viceregal Lodge in Shimla, housing the prestigious Indian Institute of Advanced Study, is undergoing a facelift. Had the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) not taken any timely action, then some parts of this magnificent and imposing grey-stone structure would have "crumbled" to the dismay of many of its admirers.

The ASI is doing its best to fill up the yawning cracks that came up due to the weathering of this more than 100-year-old colonial structure with the help of Swiss-made carbon lamination technique, thus giving it a new lease of life.

Besides, water seepage has taken its toll on the western part of the building housing the library and the council chamber. This resulted in cracks in the stone walls. To fill up these cracks without affecting the beauty and originality of the structure, the ASI has adopted this new Swiss technique, which is being used for the first time in the country to preserve a heritage building.

Mr I.D. Dwivedi, Superintending Archaeologist, ASI, Shimla mini circle, maintains if the ASI had not stepped in the building would have crumbled much earlier as local cracks had developed in almost all parts.

Carbon laminated strips are pasted on the cracks with the help of a special kind of adhesive, which gets concealed under the new plaster and paint on the walls. It also maintains the aesthetic value of the monument. He says no nails are being used to fix these strips, which have tremendous load-bearing capacity.

Besides, stones in the walls that had been totally damaged, resulting in lowering of arches of some portions of the building, have been stitched with steel pins.

Some of the arches had shifted and come down. They have now been pushed up and stitched with steel pins.

For stitching the arches with the main wall, the ASI has used a diamond fitted hydraulic machine, which minimises the abrasion effect, for drilling holes in the stone. After drilling, steel pins have been inserted in a criss-cross manner in the holes. These holes are injected with a chemical that strongly bonds the damaged stones with the steel pins.

Other works which are in progress to prevent the Rashtrapati Niwas from further losses include revision of rain harvesting system to prevent any sort of leakage from roofs, systematic restoration of the back area by providing a drainage system and replacement and repair of stone railing of the main building in the same design and texture.

"Till June-end this year, approximately Rs. 1.20 crore has been spent for the facelift out of Rs 4 crore deposited with the Ministry of Human Resource Development on the directive of the Supreme Court. Earlier, it was maintained by the CPWD", says Mr Dwivedi.

The Viceregal Lodge was designed by British architect Henry Irwin and built in the Elizabethan style during the regime of Lord Earl Dufferin. Its construction started in 1880 and was completed in 1888. Lord Dufferin occupied the lodge on July 23, 1888.

As the official summer residence of the Viceroys and Governor Generals of India, the lodge came to be associated with many important events and personages of the Indian subcontinent. The Punjab Alienation of Land Act, which proved in some ways to be the most important piece of agrarian legislation of British India and many other important Acts, were also passed here.

Three historic meetings (Simla Conferences) in June-July 1945, March 1946 and 1947 between the colonial administration and Indian leaders took place here. Unfortunately, India’s partition policy was also finalised at this place.

After Independence, the Viceregal Lodge came into the possession of the Indian Government. It was renamed Rashtrapati Niwas and declared the summer residence of the President. However, on the initiative of S. Radhakrishanan, the then President, it was decided that the Niwas should be put to academic use. It was handed over to the Indian Institute of Advanced Study in 1964.

However, Rashtrapati Niwas, which deserves inclusion in Unesco’s World Heritage List because of its monumental and historical value, needs to be taken up as a project by a university here or abroad to know more about its heritage, cultural and archaeological importance.