British Raj displaced 300 families, 7 villages to build Rashtrapati Bhavan

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Today when we zip past the well-known Malcha Marg, Talkatora Road or the ever-busy Motibagh area in India’s Capital city, Delhi, we barely have a moment to recollect the history associated with these names.

These were prosperous villages of the early part of the 20th century, which were taken by the British to build an imperial residence for the Viceroy of India. Post-independence, the Viceroy House became the residence of India’s first citizen, the President.

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The land on which the President’s Place is situated now, was the site of prosperous villages in the early part of the 20th century

The manicured lawns around the Rashtrapati Bhavan, and the neat circular lanes leading to this magnificent colonial structure was built on the land of seven villages: Raisina, Malcha, Kushak, Pelanjee, Dasgarah, Talkatora and Motibagh.

In 1910, Charles Hardinge, the acting Viceroy of India, proposed to shift the capital of British India from Calcutta (now Kolkatta) to Delhi. Accordingly, the chief secretary of the Punjab Government, issued an order in the Punjab Gazette to acquire the land on November 1911. Almost a year later, in 1912, a nod was given to the proposal, and then the search for acres of land began.

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Herbert Baker (left) and Edwin Lutyens (right) worked together to build the Viceroy’s Residence and the Secretariat.

In a matter of five years, between 1911 and 1916, 300 families were evicted under the “1894 Land Acquisition Act” from the seven villages, clearing about 4,000 acres to begin construction of the Viceroy’s House.

The British architect, Edwin Landseer Lutyens was chosen as the chief architect and he brought in his old friend, Herbert Baker. Till then, Lutyens was working on country houses in England, and Baker had already worked on an imperial project in Africa. Lutyens and Baker who were assigned to work on the Viceroy’s House and the Secretariats respectively, began on friendly terms.

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Jeet Singh is fighting a battle to gain the reimbursements that the British India had promised to offer to his forefathers

The evicted families were promised monetary and land compensation by the government, but it turns out that they received not a single penny. A recent report in Down to Earth met the descendants of the displaced families in a village in Haryana’s Sonepat district. The village is called Malcha Patti; the only thing that bears resemblance is the name

Here in Malcha Patti, 73-year-old Jeet Singh is fighting a battle to gain the reimbursements that the British India had promised to offer to his forefathers. According to Singh, Malcha was the largest of all the seven villages, and was populated by 189 families from various communities: Sainis, Brahmins, Nais, Kumhars, Dalits, Gujjars, Muslims and Jats.

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Construction work going on in the Viceroy House

Singh reiterates the link as authentic, because the man has all the photocopies of the official Mughal and British records of the era. Known as jemabandhi, the documents detail the owner of land, the area of the land and its nature, whether fertile or fallow. The document was renewed every four years by the village accountant, known as patwari.

Singh claims that the land on which the majestic home of the President lies, belongs to him. The ancient land act under which the government took away the land, was in force till 2013, until the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, took over in January 2014.

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Edwin Lutyen’s original sketch of Viceroy’s palace.

The British carried on the Mughal tradition of maintaining Shajra-e-Nasab (family tree) tradition. Using this document, Singh traced his ancestors, who owned land in Malcha village.

The British Raj offered the residents compensatory lands. However, the land offered was located in far off Montgomery district (currently in Sahiwal in Punjab, Pakistan), and in Karnal and Rohtak districts.

The irony was, the residents gained nothing, except empty promises. The displaced residents eventually migrated to Haryana, and founded Harsana and Malcha, in memory of what they had lost.

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The evicted families were promised monetary and land compensation by the government, but it turns out that they received not a single penny.

Singh and his advocate filed an application under the Right to Information Act (RTI) and got to know that the compensation money had been deposited before the Divisional Judge’s Court in Delhi in 1912-1913!

The duo knocked at the doors of all the judicial houses, right from the Supreme Court to the divisional court, but got no satisfactory response. Singh is optimistic that the money may have been deposited in the state treasury.

With the many changes in the history of India since 1911, it turns out that after many change of hands, the money is now with the nationalised State Bank of India. While the residents are still fighting the case, it is doubtful that they might get any money. We will have to wait till July 25, this year when the Delhi High Court will hear the case.

Source: Down to Earth

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