THE CORPORATION OF COCHIN building is into its 75th year of existence. It stands testimony to Ernakulam’s administrative past
Kerala had its own local self-governing institutions from the very early days. There were local assemblies like Munnuttavar (three hundred) and Arunuttavar (six hundred) way back in 800-1102 AD. These and the other local organisations were not representative or democratic in the true sense. But they functioned actively till the establishment of British supremacy in the 19th century.
The history of the growth of local self-government in Ernakulam is closely linked to the main pieces of legislation pertaining to the formation of Municipalities and Panchayats passed from time to time by the Governments of Madras, Cochin and Travancore.
The earliest municipality in Ernakulam was the Fort Cochin Municipality. It was constituted in 1866 under the Madras Town Improvement Act of 1865, according to historian A. Sreedhara Menon. History records that almost 15 days before this a municipal commission for Cochin had been established. Elections to a 16-member council took place in 1883. The council comprised four members elected by tax payers, two government nominees and ten citizens.
In 1890 a committee was appointed in the Cochin area to supervise the sanitation and conservancy of Ernakulam town. Another committee was also appointed the same year by the Government to look after the sanitary arrangements in the Mattancherry bazaar area. These committees were upgraded in 1896 into Sanitary Boards constituted for the towns of Ernakulam and Mattancherry. Later, a similar board was set up for Tripunithura also. The function of these boards was to keep the roads and drains clean and also to supervise the lighting of the streets.
This then was the beginning of local self-governance. These boards were, in a sense, precursors to the structured and more democratic bodies that came into existence later.
This arrangement continued till 1910 when the Municipal and Sanitary Improvement Regulation was passed. This act provided for the organisation of town councils with a view to introducing municipal administration in the towns.
The erstwhile rulers of Cochin shifted their capital from Mattancherry to Tripunithura sometime around 1840. This brought about a spurt of developments in Ernakulam. Public buildings, educational institutions were set up; roads were laid out, markets established and temples renovated. Soon this place was developing into an administrative town.
Ernakulam became a Municipality in 1910 and Mattancherry followed in 1912. The year 1910 marks, states Sreedhara Menon, an epoch in the history of municipal administration in Cochin. Town councils were set up that comprised a president and a number of councillors, not less than six and not exceeding 12. The president was either nominated by the government or elected by the councillors themselves.
In subsequent years with new laws coming into force, like the Cochin Municipal Regulation, the structure of the councils changed and the powers of the councils enhanced substantially. The councils came to be known as Municipal Councils and the presidents were called Chairmen.
The Ernakulam Municipal building was constructed on December 7, 1939. It stood in line with some of the magnificent structures that stood facing the Irwin Park and the lovely backwaters. “This was built during the time of Sir R.K. Shanmughom Chetti, who was Dewan then. It was as magnificent as the other buildings, like the old Collectorate or Maharaja’s College. But it was different in its architectural style. There was a very aesthetic blend of Indo-European styles. There was a veranda which has now been covered to make space for other facilities,” informs K. J. Sohan, former Mayor, present Standing Committee Chairman (Town Planning) and one of the longest serving councillors of the Corporation of Cochin.
The Kerala Assembly gave its approval for the formation of the Corporation of Cochin on July 1, 1967. “On November 1, 1967, on the Durbar Hall Ground, the then Chief Minister EMS Namboodiripad, made the official declaration,” remembers journalist Ravi Kuttikad.
The Corporation of Cochin has been functioning out of this 74-year-old building. “It is functionally located. People who have business with the Corporation can reach the place by road and also by boat as the Ernakulam boat jetty and the bus stand are located just a stone’s throw away for the building. There have been some major extensions and additions made to this old building. Today, only the Council Hall, the chambers of the Mayor and Deputy Mayor and the Revenue Department function from this building. There are two new buildings that have come up adjacent to the old one. They are connected to the old building by a sort of ‘bridge.’ Most of the other departments now function from these two buildings,” says Sohan.
The trees that have grown outside the Corporation compound, the billboards and posters on the fence and a canteen on one side of the building obstruct the view of this architecturally beautiful heritage building, which is now into its Platinum Jubilee year.