The Raj Niwas, the Office-cum-Residence of the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi, located at 6 Ludlow Castle Road (as Raj Niwas Marg was previously known), has had a very interesting and chequered history, stretching over almost two centuries of the building and its immediate neighbourhood being the administrative nerve centre of Delhi.
In 1803, the British East India Company installed the position of a ‘Resident’ at the Mughal Court in Delhi, re-designated as the ‘Political Agent of the British Government’ from 1813, as the de facto colonial administrator of the by then severely eroded Mughal empire. Soon the search began for a residence and office fitting this official’s high stature. An appropriate house was found in Ludlow Castle, an imposing structure built in 1813 for the residence of Samuel Ludlow, the Residency Surgeon, and located to the north of the walled city. With Dr. Ludlow having been transferred out of Delhi in 1831, the house could be procured on rent for the office and residence of the Agent, and from 1832 to 1857, Ludlow Castle became the Delhi Residency.
After the 1857 upheaval, and the consequent annexation of Delhi to British India, Delhi became a Division of the Punjab Province rather than a sovereign princely state, and shorn of the hallowed position of a ‘Resident’ or ‘Agent’, the British Administration in Delhi was now to be headed by a mere ‘Commissioner’. Ludlow Castle, damaged severely in 1857 and refurbished, continued to be the office and residence of the Commissioner of Delhi, but by 1886 it was felt that the Castle was too big and the rent too high for the residence and office of a Divisional Commissioner. Accordingly, in 1886, it was decided to rent two smaller houses – one just behind Ludlow Castle, from Seth Lakhmin Chand, as the Commissioner’s Residence, and another some distance away, from Sheikh Hafeezullah, as his office. The residence of the chief administrator of Delhi thus moved a step further closer to its current location, but it actually shifted to the exact location of 6 Ludlow Castle Road in 1897, when the government procured the plot from Lala Sangam Rai through exchange and constructed the Commissioner’s Residence at that very address. In fact, in 1897 itself plans were mooted to construct another building adjacent to it at the same address to accommodate the Commissioner’s Office too.
In reality, in view of Sheikh Hafeezullah’s repeated demands for enhanced rent, plans were afoot to construct a new building for the Office of the Commissioner of Delhi from as early as 1887. However, there was no unanimity as to the prospective location of the same, with at least three sites – a plot next to Maiden’s Hotel, a slice of the playground of the Delhi Municipal Boys’ High School, and a portion of the Qudasiya Garden where a pavilion had been built for an exhibition during the 1903 Delhi Durbar – being the top contenders, resulting in no such construction actually happening for almost two decades. By 1904, however, these options got discarded for various reasons, and the 1897 plan of building the office of the Commissioner adjacent to his residence gained final approval. In 1905, Rai Saheb Bishambar Nath, the Executive Engineer, Delhi Provincial Division, got commissioned to construct a new composite Commissioner’s Office-cum-Residence at 6 Ludlow Castle Road at a cost of Rs. 21,772, the very building that was to become the first Raj Niwas in six more decades. The construction was completed in 1906, but the fixing of racks and almirahs inside the offices at an additional sum of Rs. 6,179, for which apparently there was no approval, delayed the actual possession of the building, and it was on April 1, 1907, that the Commissioner’s Office shifted to this venue.
In 1911, Delhi ceased to be just a small Division in the Punjab province and instead became the National Capital, resulting in the administrative head of Delhi being rechristened the Chief Commissioner of Delhi, a position that continued to govern Delhi from 1912, through the independence of 1947, to 1966. Needless to say, the very venue – 6 Ludlow Castle Road – continued to be the Residence-cum-Office of the Chief Commissioner of Delhi for the entire period. In 1966, the Delhi Administration Act proclaimed Delhi a Union Territory to be governed by a Lieutenant Governor instead of a Chief Commissioner, and the particular house got renamed as Raj Niwas, as also did the road that housed it.
The 1906 Raj Niwas building continued to be the official Office-cum-Residence of the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi till 1988, when because of its seriously dilapidated state, it was decided to shift the facilities first to 18 Akbar Road and then to 3 Motilal Nehru Place, but this arrangement was only temporary and the Raj Niwas was to return soon in a renewed avatar. The old Raj Niwas was demolished and in 1993, Ram Sharma, a former Professor at the School of Planning and Architecture was commissioned to build a new Raj Niwas in its place. The foundation stone was laid on July 20, 1995 by the then Vice President of India, K.R. Narayanan, and R.K. Sharma and Associates constructed the spectacular current Raj Niwas – modelled on what Sharma called a ‘modern haveli’ – with integrated and yet separate public and private sections, to make the building serve both as the Lieutenant Governor’s residence and secretariat, and also to host public functions.
In 1997, though, it was felt that the new building was too huge and elaborate for the use of one person, and momentarily it was suggested that it be converted to a State Guest House, with the Lieutenant Governor continuing to reside at 3 Motilal Nehru Place. However, and in an act befitting the stature of the high office of the chief administrator of the national capital of world’s largest democracy, this temporary suggestion did not prevail, and in 2004, the new building once again became the Office-cum-Residence of the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi – the Raj Niwas – a role that this venue has been destined to play in shaping the history of this city and the country for almost 200 years now.