A time when the Collectors of the Malabar lived as tenants of the Haji brothers

Administrative bustle marked the East Hill Bungalow in colonial Kozhikode. It was the abode of many Collectors of the Malabar. The bungalow keeps its historical tag intact to this day, housing the Krishna Menon Museum and the Pazhassi Raja Museum. Its recent neighbours, including schools and hostels, may have relegated the bungalow to obscurity, but the past placed on it considerable significance.

Archival documents show the bungalow was often owned by the Collectors who occupied it and they in turn sold it to successors. Documents from 1924 say that by 1870 it belonged to George Alexander Ballard, who sold to Atholl Macgregor in 1874 for Rs 13,500. Macgregor, in turn, sold it to William Logan in 1875-76. In a letter from Rao Bahadur A.P. Chirukandan to the then Collector A.R. MacEwen in 1936, the sender attempts a history of the bungalow and concludes that Logan after retirement went back by 1886-87 and through a power of attorney sold it in 1890 to brothers Koyotti Haji and Chekkutty Koya Haji for Rs 16,000.

From then on, the East Hill Bungalow went through an interesting phase. Though owned by the brothers, it continued to house Collectors, as tenants. Most of the Collectors of the Malabar, between 1890 and 1920, lived here at a rent of Rs 150 a month.

Finally, the government purchased the building and the surrounding area, taking advantage of the Land Acquisition Act.

The first steps towards acquisition began as early as 1917 and continued till 1921, a rather dramatic purchase that finished at the Madras High Court. The letters between the Collector and the descendents of the brothers reveal the terms of the bargain, while those between the Collector and the Madras office reflect an urgent need to buy the bungalow.

Collector F.B. Evans sends the first letter to S. Mammad Haji in June 1917, asking if he is willing to sell the bungalow to the government. When no reply comes his way, he sends a reminder in September 1917, to which Mammad Haji replies that “at present we are not willing to sell East Hill (sic) to Government.”

The Collector, meanwhile, keeps up the effort, asking the executive engineer to draw up an estimate for the bungalow and surrounding land. The engineer fixes an estimate of Rs 34,500, out of which Rs 6,200 has to be deducted for repairs.

In documents marked ‘confidential’, Evans writes to the Secretary to the Government in 1917, mooting the idea of acquiring the bungalow. He says in the letter, “The Government should acquire the bungalow at East Hill for the residence of the Collector of Malabar.”

Bungalow for the Collector

He builds his case saying that the bungalow was “originally built for the purpose and has always been occupied by the Collector and there is little likelihood of his being turned out under the present regime; but it is I think inconvenient and undesirable that a Collector should be the tenant of a private owner.”

Evans also reels out the travails of living in a rented accommodation, especially when the owners cannot afford to carry out repairs. “The present owners are not rich and I have had the greatest difficulty in getting necessary repairs done … I have in fact had to spend a good deal of money on the bungalow myself,” he says.

Taking into consideration that the bungalow is spread over 26 acres and 39 cents and perched on a hill where the construction of further buildings would depreciate the value of the bungalow, Evans says, the sum of Rs 34,500 would be appropriate. “I think owner would probably agree to accept this,” he writes. He also tells the Secretary that it is best to settle the acquisition without going to court. “It is advisable to avoid reference to the civil court if possible since their decision in such cases is so uncertain.”

Evans had to wait a year for the Secretary’s reply, approving the acquisition but capping the price at Rs 30,000. “The property can be got for not more than Rs 30,000.”

The bargain

Mammad Koya, in turn, is disappointed by the developments. “I am aware that acquisition by government for a public purpose does not take into consideration the necessity of a present owner… I merely wished to have it understood that I would not part of my own free will with this valuable and long-standing property.” The sum offered is “far below what I could very reasonably accept as a willing seller in the open market,” he says.

In his letter, Evans requests Mammad Koya to “name his figure.” Evans, in his later letter in January 1919, writes to the Secretary of Government, mentioning that the owner has quoted Rs 60,000. “The impression left on me is that he would not accept less than Rs 40,000…it is a delicate position for me to bargain in the matter.” Within a month, the Collector receives a letter raising the bungalow price to Rs 40,000. While Mammad Koya agrees to that sum, some among the vast troop of descendants disagree. A letter from Collector M. McCulligan to the Secretary in 1920 mentions the confusion. He says the acquiring officer “has awarded a total sum, including the 15 per cent allowance, of Rs 36,357 for the whole property. The several claimants to the property are not satisfied with this sum and a reference is made to a civil court to determine the value of the property.”

The case goes through the sub court and finally the Madras High Court, where “the sum awarded by the acquiring officer” is restored.

(A weekly column on the past culled from historical documents)

Source: Regional Archives, Kozhikode