|Restored structure. the Mairie (town hall), Puducherry, India. thehindu.com|
The well-planned coastal city of Puducherry was the hub of commerce during the French rule in the 19th and early 20th century.. When the French left Puducherry for good, they left behind a host of French-styled buildings of varied designs. Particularly, in the French quarters, there are many such buildings that carry the legacy of French rule. The Puducherry state carrying on the French culture and heritage, even the police men wear French-styled uniform in Puducherry, Karikal districts and other territories under its administration. During the British colonial rule, the French continued to retain the settlement despite several wars with them. The hostility between these two colonial powers had persisted since the time of East India company rule.
Not withstanding the fact the French established colonies in India way back in the 17th century itself, only toward the end of the 19th century they introduced civil administration. A French Metropolitan Decree, dated 12 March 1880 adopted a six-year term of office for Mayors (Maire), municipal councilors (Conseil Municipaux) and commune panchayats (Communes). Thus French India has seen a French system of municipal administration. Being an effective administrative machinery in French India, it had several distinctive and efficient features. The French civil administration stood apart and served as a role model for hassle-free administration in French India. This city hall (Maiie), considered a symbol of the French colonial power, provided a premise for the registry office, and especially for the mayor.
|Mairie, Puducherry, original building chinarhyming.com|
|The Mairie, Puducherry, India. prior to 2014 thehindu.com|
|The Mairie, Puducherry,timesofindia.indiatimes.com|
The structure was too weak to face the fury of incessant NE retreating monsoon rains in 2014 and the it caused the collapse. Very much affected were central part and major portions on the northern side, including rooms on the ground and first floor of the building. However, the four walls and southern portions survived with cracks. Soon after the collapse of this unique structure, there arose a necessity for the government agencies to evaluate all the French heritage structures in Puducherry. Both the heritage experts and the government agencies had swung into action and made concerted efforts to save the the town hall building and the remaining iconic structures at the earliest.
|Restoration work in progress. The Mairie, Puducherry, India. thehindu.com|
The restoration work stalled for a while on account of disagreement over the right choice of construction materials for the building. The crux of the matter was traditional construction materials had to be used in the new structure to retain the heritage value and splendor. The heritage experts from the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) and other agencies and the Government finally arrived at a reasonable agreement over the use of conventional method to rebuild Mairie.
The INTACH’ experts gave preference to lime mortar and ‘Madras-terrace roof’ technique as the the traditional methods give better life than the modern RCC structure that may last 40 or 50 years where as the PWD, Govt. of Pondicherry recommended .reinforced cement concrete (RCC) and cement mortar and cement plaster. Further, the the INTAH engineers wanted to stick to original drawings to rebuild the structure, using the original materials and construction techniques as followed in the past. The cost of the project Rs.15 crore was funded by the world bank.
According to PPH ( The People for Pondicherry’s Heritage, a citizens’ body) , the Congress-led coalition government was now taking steps to construct a RCC look-alike of the Mairie despite knowing that it was possible to reconstruct it using traditional methods. The old features include on the eastern and western façade of the building arcaded entrance with a verandah on high plinth accessed by a broad flight of steps in dressed granite and colored galleries on the first floor and a large ceremonial hall with wooden flooring,
One of the biggest administrative buildings for more than 100 years, it was classified under A Grade for its heritage value and B Grade for its architectural, cultural and streetscapes significance.. Since 1870-71, no major restoration work has been carried out. .It is among the other historical sites like Light House, Customs House and French Consulate on the Beach road the Mairie served as the office of the municipality offering services marriage registration, etc. besides holding public functions. It also served as the local assembly in the 1880s, but also saw the first-ever democratic exercise during 1871 to 1900, much before the first general election was held in British India.