The Registry Building, a two-storied structure at Chandernagore built in 1875 and a symbol of French settlement of the colonial town, has been awaiting restoration for a long time. Architects, heritage enthusiasts, State government officials and diplomats have on several occasion in the past few years visited the crumbling building located on the strand opposite Rani Ghat jetty on the banks of Hooghly and have assured about the restoration of the structure.
French Ambassador to India Emmanuel Lenain, who recently visited Kolkata, expressed hope that the restoration of the Registry Building was “moving forward nicely”. Emphasising that the structure needed an urgent facelift, the Ambassador said that restoration of the building would be completed in next two to three years.
There were plans for having a café, restaurant and a boutique hotel with the architectural principle that original structure remained unchanged. Mr. Lenain said that officials of French Institute in Delhi, officials of West Bengal government and experts were soon going to have a meeting to decide on the restoration. Architects from France and India were also working on the project and the French Embassy and government of West Bengal and other stakeholders had also identified a prominent hospitality group as a sponsor of the project.
Officials of the French Consulate in Kolkata said that an agreement for restoration project was drawn up in February 2019 and adaptive reuse of the building. After the memorandum of understanding lapsed in March 2021 as not much progress could be made because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the proposal was extended for another 30 months.
First trading post
Chandernagore or Chandannagar was the first trading post on the eastern bank of the Hooghly, set up by the French in 1696. There are several buildings in the town that are a reflection of rich architectural heritage of the town. Other than the buildings and structures that have been given the heritage tag there was a total 99 Indo-French heritage structures have been identified (by the French) in Chandernagore that needs to be resorted. Attempts have also been made at crowdfunding the restoration projects.
During the recent visit to West Bengal, Mr. Lenain also visited Visva Bharati University and said that Santiniketan was well-known to the people of France. The Ambassador was impressed about the “good French Department” and spoke about the exchanges between Rabindranath Tagore and French dramatist and novelist Romain Rolland.
The Ambassador also added that the France was emerging as the preferred destination for students from India and that before the onset of the pandemic about 10,000 students were going to France for higher studies. Mr. Lenain said that education in France was not as high-priced as in the U.S. and other European countries as students got “ best value for their money”. The Ambassador said that France was hopeful that the number of Indian students seeking education in the country would rise to 20,000.