At a time when the city of Kolkata was coming up in the 1690’s the Armenians arrived there. The community whose strength in the ‘City of Joy’ has dropped to about 150 individuals at present had once flourished in business and built several key properties. In the 330 years since the first Armenians set their foot there, several properties located in the heart of the city were occupied by tenants or those who got lease for a very nominal amount.
Earlier this month, the Office of the Administrator General and Official Trustee of West Bengal received a letter from Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians. The letter was to express appreciation to Biplab Roy, judge who heads the office of the Official Trustee for better financial management of Armenian properties in the city.
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“We are pleased to learn from Very Rev. Fr. Dajad Tsaturyan, Pastor of the Armenians in India and manager of Armenian College and Philanthropic Academy about your devoted hard work in preserving the rich legacy and heritage of the Armenians in Kolkata,” said the letter dated September 5 and signed by Karekin II.
Mr. Roy said the annual income from 40 properties belonging to the Armenian institutions have increased from ₹36.55 lakh annually to over ₹2 crore annually after the lease agreements were changed.
“For instance, a property on 44 Chowringhee Road spread over 60 cottahs of land was leased for 99 years where the yearly rent was about ₹1 lakh. Those occupying the property on lease were violating some terms and then after discussion the new rent was decided as ₹60 lakh per annum. Also, the company agreed to ₹3.6 crore as security deposit,” Mr. Roy explained. The Office of the Administrator General also took possession of four cottahs of land of the Armenian Church at Barabazar valued at ₹10 core located on 1 Synagogue Street, Kolkata which was illegally handed over to some people. Mr. Roy also added that his office was taking steps to recover many prime properties of the Church in Kolkata, Hooghly and Asansol.
The letter by Karekin II states, “Please accept our words of appreciation for the unwavering support shown for the benefit of Armenian College and Philanthropic Academy and the Armenian Churches in West Bengal. It is also greatly pleasing to know that with your kind cooperation the Armenian College is operating successfully, providing excellent education to our Armenian children”.
Honour to Kolkata
The Religious Head of Armenia in the communication wished that Mr. Roy continued in his official position for the benefit and safeguard of various trusts of Armenians in Kolkata.
Speaking to The Hindu, Mr. Roy who is a judicial officer of the rank of District Judge said, “The appreciation from Armenia is not only an honour to the Office of Administrator General and Official Trustee of Kolkata but also to the very city of Kolkata which has tried to restore the legacy of all the communities that have contributed to its composition nature. We are trying to restore and ensure that the properties belonging to the Armenians, Jews and even Anglo-Indians are properly maintained and they generate resources that can contribute to the well-being of the community”. The State government also draws a commission from the money generated by these properties.
Sunil Sobti, Warden of Armenian Church of Kolkata said that what Mr. Roy and his office have done was remarkable and something nobody had done in the past several years.
Mr. Sobti added that the Armenians arrived in the city in 1688 and many iconic buildings including the 300-year-old Armenian Holy Church of Nazareth and the Kolkata’s Grand Hotel were built by the members of the community. There is a street named in the city as ‘Armenian Street’ and the Armenian College and Philanthropic Academy was formally set up in 1821, at 358, Old China Bazar Street.
Like the Armenians of Kolkata, the Office of the Administrator General and Official Trustee of West Bengal is responsible for the maintenance of hundreds of prime properties and large parcels of land in Kolkata, and the rest of the State has a bit of history.
The first Act relating to the Administrator General of Bengal was passed in 1874, which was then amended by another Act in 1913. There was also an Official Trustee Act, which was in effect from the 1870’s and in 1916, the office of the Administrator General and Official Trustee were merged and the office of the Administrator General and Official Trustee came into being and has continued to function since then. Recently a treasure trove of artefacts about Kolkata’s colonial past including old property deeds, priceless photographs, sketches, precious stones and gold medals were discovered from an old warehouse of the Office of Administrator General.