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Calcutta High Court - Heritage Buildings
3190    Dibyendu Banerjee    24/08/2019

Constructed in neo-Gothic style and opened in 1872, the majestic and dignified building of the Calcutta High Court stands gracefully close to the eastern bank of River Hoogly, as an iconic symbol of justice. It has the distinction of being the first High Court in the country and has a long history behind it.

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The Sepoy Mutiny in 1857, also known as the first war of independence against the British rule in India, necessitated rethinking on the administrators of India and the reforms and recognition of the law courts in the country. In fact, replacing the Mayor’s Court of Calcutta, the Supreme Court of Judicature at Fort Williams was founded in 1774 and was the British India’s highest court until 1862, when the Letters Patent granted by Her Majesty Queen Victoria dated 14th of May 1862, issued under the High Court’s Act, 1861, brought the High Court at Calcutta into existence. The Act provided that the jurisdiction and powers of the High Court were to be defined by the Letters Patent. Consequently, the High Court of Judicature at Fort William was formally opened on the 1st day of July 1862, with Sir Barnes Peacock as its first Chief Justice. Justice Sumboo Nath Pandit, appointed on the 2nd day of February 1863, was the first Indian to assume office as a Judge of the Calcutta High Court, followed by many legal experts of the country.

calcutta high court

As it is already mentioned, the Calcutta High Court has the distinction of being the first High Court in the country. Apart from that, it is also one of the three Chartered High Courts established in India, along with the High Courts of Bombay, Madras. The seat of the High Court is Calcutta, added with a permanent Circuit Bench in Port Blair, since it has jurisdiction over the state of West Bengal and the Union Territory of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Nevertheless, the building of the Calcutta High Court was constructed much later, ten years after the establishment of the court itself and was opened in 1872.

calcutta high court
The corridor of Calcutta High Court

To make space for the construction of the massive building of the Calcutta High Court, several buildings situated on the site were pulled down. Even, the Government purchased the residential building of Archibald Keir to demolish it for the purpose. In addition to that, the house of Longueville Clarke, a famous advocate of that court and the founder of the Bar Library, the house of William Macpherson, Master of the Supreme Court, the house of Sir James Colville, Chief Justice in 1855, all were leveled to the ground in the process. During the period between 1862 and 1872, while the Main Building of the Calcutta High Court was being constructed, the High Court proceedings were conducted in the Town Hall, as the Supreme Court building was also demolished in 1862.

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It is interesting to note that, once there has been a large tank just in front the main building of the Calcutta High Court, which was subsequently filled up to build a wide road leading toward the southwest corner of the Tank Square alias Dalhousie Square.

calcutta high court
High Court of Calcutta 1903

Captain Charles Wyatt of the Bengal Engineers, who prepared the blueprint of the Government House, designed the enormous building of the Calcutta High Court, loosely based on the model of the 13th Century 'Stadt-Haus' or the Cloth Hall at Ypres in Belgium, which was destroyed by the artillery fire during the First World War. After completion of the preliminary paper works, construction of the building started in 1864 and it took four years to complete the project. Finally, the Calcutta High Court started to function in the newly constructed building from 1872.

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The gorgeous building of the Calcutta High Court has a grand colonnade in the lower storey of the south front. The foliated capitals of the pillars, which are of original Caen stone, are exquisitely sculptured with different allegorical figures, symbolizing Justice, Truth, Benevolence and Charity. Like the impressively tall belfry of the Staad-Haus, the High Court has a 180 feet centre tower in the south front, capped by four turrets and a spire, which is a little taller than the Ochterlony monument. The main entrance of the enormous building is through the tower, where rests the main stair of the building. There is a well maintained lawn inside the building. Recently in 2011 and 2012, the stone blocks of the veranda on the ground floor were replaced with thin marble tiles.

calcutta high court
The Centenary Building, Calcutta High Court

To meet the need for more space, the new High Court Centenary Building was built as an extension, retaining somewhat the architectural symmetry of the Main Building. The Centenary building, inaugurated in 1977, has three floors excluding the ground floor and is equipped with an overhead passage from the South face of the original building. Later, another multi-storied building has also been constructed as yet another annex in the 150th year of the Calcutta High Court.

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The Sesquicentenary Building, Calcutta High Court
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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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