Monday, April 22, 2024
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History razed to the ground: A painful saga

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Editor,
Apropos the news of the devastating fire at the premises of the Shillong Bar Association, it was an extremely sad event. One of the iconic structures of Shillong has been burnt down. During the days of composite Assam, this place housed the Assam Public Service Commission. Those days Shillong had only a Munsiff’s court and the District Judge from one of the plains areas districts, probably Kamrup, would come in periodic circuit benches. These courts of the independent judiciary exercised jurisdiction only in the original four wards of Shillong Municipality which are excluded from the tribal areas under the provisions of Constitution of India. The bulk of the judicial work would be done in the courts of the Deputy Commissioner, in cases involving non-tribals, and of the District Councils in cases involving only local tribals.
During those days the Shillong Bar Association had a room in the Deputy Commissioner’s office, which too was an Assam type building. It is one of the oldest Bar Associations of the region, having been established in 1913, but the number of advocates were few though many stalwarts were always there. Fakruddin Ali Ahmed, B. B. Lyngdoh and Maham Singh had been members.
In the late 1960s or early 1970s a separate Sessions division was set up in Shillong with a permanent seat of the District and Sessions Judge. As the number of lawyers grew, the Shillong Bar Association was allocated its own premises in a part of the old APSC building. The other offices in that building were those of the Civil Defence, Sainik Board and the Civil Task Force.
In mid 1970s The Gauhati High Court had also begun holding periodic circuit benches here and by 1995 a permanent bench was set up. By the early part of this century the other offices from this building were shifted and the whole building was allocated to the use of the Shillong Bar Association.
Many dignitaries, specially prominent jurists have paid visits here. I was the Secretary of the Association for nine years from 1993 to 2002 and in that period alone four Chief Justices of India and some leading figures like Somnath Chatterjee had set their feet there.
All this is from my personal knowledge acquired over the years and if I have given any faulty information, I am sorry and stand corrected. The ambience of the place was so friendly and homely!! We advocates, especially the old timers, shall be direly missing all that charm.
There should be a thorough investigation by a very specialized investigation agency, probably the CBI, to determine the cause of the fire and to bring the culprits, if any, to book.
Yours etc.,
Subhasis Chakrawarty, Senior Advocate
Via email

Shillong Bar Association gutted

Editor,
Words cannot express how saddened I am after hearing of our Bar Association building being razed by a raging inferno. It is not only a physical loss but an emotional loss for all of us associated with the Bar. I had joined the Shillong Bar Association 15 years ago soon after completing my LL.B course and joining a Bar Association was not just a membership for me – it was about contributing to a vibrant legal community and advancing my own career. I had embarked on my first step in joining the legal profession by joining the Shillong Bar association. The SBA provided me a platform to connect with my peers, exchange ideas, and build professional relationships.
SBA was one of Shillong’s iconic structures and one of the oldest bar associations of the country . The establishment of the Shillong Bar Association in 1913 was indeed a momentous event in the region and thus, revolutionized the system of administration and justice in our region. Over the years, many members of the Bar Association attained high levels of distinction in professional and public life. The Association has also produced several important public leaders among the stalwarts including former president of India late Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, former Meghalaya chief minister late B.B. Lyngdoh and other former ministers like late Maham Sing.
When a place is no more or, as we have seen, when chunks of that physical site have been destroyed it becomes a kind of anthropomorphic feeling, as though we lost that part of ourselves; a loss of body parts, to put it bluntly. That connection is really an eternal question but more importantly a loss of the symbol that it represents all of us as a member of the Bar Association
Yours etc.,
M. Haque (Advocate),
Member of Shillong Bar Association,
Shillong-6

Keeping legacies alive at a cost

Editor,
World Heritage sites are a crowd puller not only for their historical importance and for being a treasure trove of archives but they also create awareness in society on why they are valuable and have economic benefits. Sadly. in Shillong the term ‘caring’ does not sit comfortably with experts within different verticals of public and private organisations who are specialized in handling architectural conservation. On Saturday night another heritage building bites the dust with the iconic British era structure of the Shillong Bar Association gutted to ashes some containing files on property cases which are critical to the affairs of the state. This is where e-filing on cloud space and using technology is a significant change from dusty papers. It is too early to speculate whether the fire was an act of God or sabotage, but it is definitely disappointing that we could never learn lessons from the past. It may be mentioned that in a small country like Singapore, there is a focus on nurturing public spaces and colonial landmarks. Non-profit organizations like the Singapore and International Committee on Documentation and Conservation of Buildings (DoCoMoMo) Singapore are leading the way. The urban landscape of Shillong is a catch-22 for planners with the National Building Code of India if there is such a thing in paper to put it in practice but it is time to rebuild and restore many other sites through building audits with a clear roadmap before we are too late in saving the remnants to which future generations could relate to and be proud of.
Yours etc.,
Christopher Gatphoh,
Shillong-10

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