A 19th-century police chowki in outer Delhi’s Sarai Rohilla, believed to be the oldest surviving police post in the national capital, has been restored nearly one and a half years after conservation efforts started on site.
The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), which carried out the conservation work on the structure, formally handed over the chowki to the Delhi Police on Tuesday. The worn-out and derelict structure is now a spruced up and well-lit building, one that Delhi Police would be proud to count among its ranks.
Situated in the congested and busy industrial pocket of Sarai Rohilla on the Old Rohtak Road, the heritage structure is estimated to have come up in the early 1800s, according to conservation experts.
The conservation process started in March last year and entailed the repair of the damaged roof, removal of trees that were intertwined with the building, and filling of gaps and cracks that had developed over the years. A well located in the vicinity of the police station was also restored by heritage experts from INTACH, who were approached by Delhi Police to carry out the conservation of the chowki. The project was funded by Delhi Police and INTACH jointly.
According to Delhi Police ‘s coffee table book, “History and Heritage”, the chowki finds a mention in records dating back to the early 19th century. It says the structure is mentioned in Mirza Sangin Beg’s book, Sair-ul Manazil, written in 1827.
Sair-ul Manazil (a journey from one destination to another) was reportedly commissioned by the British East India Company, which asked Beg to write about 19th-century Delhi.
According to the coffee table book, Sadar Bazar in north Delhi is the oldest police station in Delhi built in 1861. Besides Sadar Bazar, Sabzi Mandi, Mehrauli, Kotwali and Mundka are among the oldest police stations in Delhi, the coffee table book published by the Delhi Police says.
Since Beg’s work dates to 1827, the book acknowledges that the police post in Sarai Rohilla predates them all.
Historian Swapna Liddle, who edited an English translation of Sair-Ul-Manazil, said the book mentions the post by the name of “Barki Chowki”.
“Sair-Ul-Manazil mentions the presence of a police chowki known as Barki Chowki in an area where there is a kala pahad (hill) and a temple of Sheetla where Hindus performed puja .Near this chowki, there is a sarai (inn) of Rohilla Khan,” Liddle had earlier told HT, citing the book.
Although more details about the structure are not known, Liddle said Sair-Ul-Manazil was written in the 1820s, which means that the structure (chowki) could be an early 19th-century British-era building.
A Vijaya, director and head of INTACH’s Architectural Heritage Division, who spearheaded the conservation exercise, said work was initiated in March last year and completed this August. “The building was a run-down heritage structure when we started work. For us, the project was like a rescue operation of a heritage building with a significant history, it being the first police post in Delhi. The architecture of the building suggests that it dates to the early 19th century (1800s-1820s),” said Vijaya.
She added that the presence of a tree around the police post made the conservation process a little challenging since permissions were required from different departments and it was crucial to ensure that the heritage building was not damaged in any way.
“Removing the tree was a bit of a hurdle. It took us around three months to gather the necessary permissions. The roof of the chowki had collapsed partially. We fixed the roof, inserted doors and windows, and removed the porta cabins that blocked the view of the chowki,” said Vijaya.
Conservation experts also prepared a garden to surround the chowki complex while the main heritage building was also illuminated to highlight its features. “We felt the need to illuminate the building so that it stands out. Without illumination, the building would have not created a lot of impact,” said Vijaya.
Rajender Kalkal, assistant commissioner of police (perception management), who was closely involved in the project, said, “I started trying to find out more about the chowki that was mentioned in Sair-Ul-Manazil. When I visited the location, I saw that an anti auto theft office of the north district was running from the premises. Behind the office, I noticed a ruined structure that appeared to be historical value. We got in touch with experts who confirmed the heritage value of the structure,” said Kalkal.
He said former special commissioner of police (perception management) Sanjay Baniwal (current DG of Tihar Jail) took a keen interest in the project which eventually led to the engagement of heritage experts. “With Baniwal’s support, we sought funds of ₹14.5 lakh from the ministry of culture,” said Kalkal.
Kumar Gyanesh, deputy commissioner of police (perception management), said finishing touches and some work still remains, after completing which the structure will be inaugurated. “This is an old heritage structure whose restoration is being carried out. We have not decided on the inauguration date or how the space will be used after inauguration,” said Gyanesh.