Expect preservationists to be up in arms soon. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has proposed to strike 99 structures off its list of heritage sites. The silver lining, though, is that it has also decided to add 280 historical and heritage sites to the list.
Senior civic officials say the BMC published a notification in newspapers on July 31 inviting suggestions and objections from the public within a month on the proposal to modify the existing heritage structure list. “Citizens can write to the development planning department and the heritage cell of the BMC,” says an official.
Rajeev Mishra, principal of Sir JJ College of Architecture and member of the new Mumbai heritage conservation committee (MHCC), explains that with such a move, the civic body aims at preserving more historical, heritage and culturally important structures and at encouraging sightseers to go beyond the traditional list of tourist destinations in the city. “They [the additions to the heritage list] will be the new tourist destinations. We can save these valuable structures based on their heritage grading (I, II, and III).”
Suburbs to get their due
If the new list is approved, the suburbs will pip south Mumbai, which has to date staked a claim in a majority of the sites on the heritage list. Of the 280 proposed additions to the list, 214 structures are from the western suburbs. Eastern suburbs contribute the rest.
A resident from a suburb alleges that the western and eastern suburbs have always received step-motherly treatment from the authorities even though they have a large number of historically- and culturally-rich sites.
Pankaj Joshi, executive director of Urban Design Research Institute, agrees that the existing heritage list has a concentration of sites from south Mumbai. “Historically and culturally, the suburbs are richer.”
An MHCC member says the new structures include wells, schools, lakes, a church and villages. He hopes that the new list will bring suburbs on a par with south Mumbai in terms of tourist flow.
Key additions from the western suburbs comprise Bandra Talao, Mount Mary Convent High school, Bandra village, the Theosophical Society in India at Juhu, and Gorai and Madh villages. Besides, Mahakali and Kanheri caves as well as the Santa Cruz railway station will be added in the supplementary list. Eastern suburbs’ contributions include the Ganesh Talao at Chembur, Dream Land at Chembur, the Laxminarayan Temple, the Nahar railway station, Tulsi Lake and Beggars Home in Chembur.
A BMC official said the Godiwalla Bungalow, Wilson Street, Bhagwadi at Kalbadevi, Damani House, Wadia House, Cama House, and the Taj building are among the 99 structures proposed to be de-listed.
Stunting developers’ might
The state government had in 2008 appointed seven task forces, which had historians and architectural experts on board, to identify heritage structures across the city. “We studied the value, the historical reference and the cultural importance of sites and their precincts,” says Misra.
After identifying various structures, the task forces submitted their list to the BMC and the MHCC. But, the MHCC member claims, the authorities sat on this list. “No action was taken to protect these structures,” he alleges. It didn’t help that the MHCC, which had to approve the preservation plan, was dissolved soon after the list was submitted. Officials reportedly used this as an excuse to drag their feet on the issue for at least eight months.
The MHCC member, though, is willing to let bygones be bygones. “I am happy that after the new heritage committee was set up, the authorities immediately invited public views without any further delay.”
A chuffed Shama Kulkarni, a Bandra resident and trustee of city-based NGO AGNI, welcomes the push for a fresh heritage list. She says the NGO had written to the MHCC in 2006 asking it to add the Bandra Talao and other key sites in the area to the list.
The MHCC member, however, sounds the warning bell that the preservation initiative may have come a tad too late for some structures. “Many people might have demolished the proposed heritage sites to construct high-rise residential and commercial towers.” He suggests that the authorities should approve the list as early as possible to save the other structures.
Joshi says much has changed in the four years since the list was prepared. “Many structures have been brought down or partially demolished to make way for high-rises. The suggestions and objections from the public will bring out the reality.”
Vinod Shekhar, former Congress corporator from south Mumbai, takes umbrage at the proposal to take the Taj building off the heritage list. “How can the Taj, which is one of the most visible and renowned sites, be taken off the list? Such a decision will reflect badly on the rest of the city. There should be a public hearing before the list is finalised.”
Joshi alleges that the proposed list is not easily available to the public. Another heritage expert says, “The copy of the list should be available at each ward office so that people can get a copy of the list and study it. Now, they have to come all the way to the BMC head office just to see the list. The list should also have been published in prominent newspapers. Also, a month is not enough to submit suggestions and objections; people should be given at least three months to respond. The authorities sat on the list for four years and now, they want out our views in a month.”