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Row over renovation of North Brook Gate

By Ajit Patowary

GUWAHATI, July 11 - A controversy has cropped up over the methods and materials used to renovate the about 141-year-old North Brook Gate in the city by the voluntary organisation Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH). This monument is a brick work structure in lime-surki mortar. Surki is a granular brick powder.

This historical monument is the property of the Assam Tourism Development Corporation (ATDC). Its northern part has developed a northward tilt. The INTACH, Assam Chapter has undertaken the renovation of the structure, at the behest of the ATDC, in June this year, with an estimated cost of around Rs 30 lakh.

The reasons for the tilt have been identified by both the INTACH and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) as the dampening of the soil beneath the foundation of the structure by the accumulated rainwater and also the seepage from the fountain in the park adjacent to it. However, the accumulation of the rainwater and the seepage water is caused by the platform raised by the ATDC on the northern edge of the structure.

Noted writer Kumudeswar Hazarika said this monument was constructed following the design of the arch of the King�s College Church, London. It was erected to welcome Thomas George Baring, the 1st Earl of Northbrook, the then Viceroy of India, who visited Guwahati on August 27, 1874. The foundation of the structure is so strong that it could withstand two historic earthquakes of June 12, 1897 and August 15, 1950 that shook the NE region in a devastating manner. This is the last remain of the 19th century architecture in Guwahati, said Hazarika.

Besides, Lord North Brook, it also has the memories of Rabindranath Tagore associated with it. Tagore viewed the beautiful scene of Sun setting on the western horizon from inside this structure, during his visit to Guwahati in 1919. The Kabi Guru was accompanied by Principal J Barooah of the Earl Law College to the site.

Moreover, in 1949, Lokapriya Gopinath Bordoloi, the then Premier of Assam, took the urn containing ashes of Mahatma Gandhi to the Brahmaputra for immersion through this structure, said Hazarika.

ASI sources here alleged that cement is used in the renovation of the monument. Cement will simply do away with the breathing pores of the structure, which were provided to it by the lime-surki mortar. Decomposition of the original mortar will start with the use of cement in the structure.

Instead of filling the brick joints with compatible materials, the INTACH has used dry brick aggregates for the purpose. The mortar they used also comprises cement, which is not compatible with the materials used originally in the structure, said the ASI sources.

Moreover, the iron pipes used as props by the INTACH will also concentrate the loads of the structure at some definite points instead of distributing it in an even manner. This will make the crest of the structure vulnerable to any major earthquake, said the ASI sources.

In fact the problem of tilt has not been addressed by the INTACH. Had there been any attempt at addressing this problem, the INTACH would have gone for restoration work after doing detailed drawing, documentation and photography of the original structure, said ASI sources.

However, INTACH, Assam Chapter advisor Manik Bora told this newspaper that they have been using lime-surki.

The iron pipes used as props would be removed as soon as the structure is restored to its original position. However, the restoration technique will be knwon only after the arrival of the INTACH expert from New Delhi, Bora said.

In reply to another question, he said that INTACH is not in favour of demolishing the structure to repair the tilt.

Asked for how many days they are slacking (softening) the lime for the lime-surki preparation, INTACH archaeological engineer Rathin Barthakur told this newspaper that in one case they had done the slacking for 10 to 15 days and in another case they had done the slacking for about two months.

Moreover, he said they have been using slacked lime and one latex chemical for strengthening the bonding between the bricks. The old disintegrated mortar of the structure has been removed up to 45 mm at places, khowa (broken brick pieces) have also been used with lime-surki and latex chemical to fill the gaps at places.

�We will use a preservative coat finally to protect the plaster from withering,� Barthakur said.

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