Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Heritage committee is toothless tiger

Heritage committee is toothless tiger

Wednesday, April 14, 2010 1:31 IST
Is Mumbai losing out on its heritage?
We were the first city in India to enact the heritage legislation in 1995. The right people were in the right place at the time. There were concerned environmentalists pushing this legislation. Everything got rushed, including the listing. The main thing was not only individual buildings and precincts like the Fort area, but even Khotachiwadi, Banganga and Gamdevi were included in the listing. Simultaneously, a heritage committee was appointed, chaired by stalwarts like DM Sukhtankar, Jamshed Kalga and Sharad Upasini.
Now, unfortunately, the whole appointment of MHCC is being reviewed as it is only an advisory body without any powers. The municipal commissioner was given the power to veto any decisions of MHCC. A ticket collector on the train has more powers than MHCC. I call it a toothless tiger.
Was it also because Grade III heritage buildings and precincts were brought out of the ambit of heritage norms? 
The first thing that went out of the heritage purview was Grade III buildings. We have lost many wonderful buildings. One such building near Rhythm House, on what was called Forbes Street, was the Crompton Greaves building, dating back to the 18th Century. It was historically and physically an important building. The owners and architect called it dilapidated, so we lost it. Next, the precincts came under attack. Gamdevi got high-rise structures and the same thing happened at Khotachiwadi which was destroyed in the name of redevelopment. The slum rehab scheme impacted heritage, the environment, open spaces and infrastructure. SRA was giving sops to illegal migrants as they were vote banks. But what about mill workers and lower income groups who were shunted out of the city?
Is cluster development also proving detrimental to heritage?
Cluster development laws are so warped that places like Bhuleshwar and Kalbadevi, which house temples, dharamshalas, baughs and wadis, will all go. Even three buildings on Marine Lines and Oval Maidan could disappear under cluster development.
Has MHCC’s decision ever been overruled by the BMC?
During Jairaj Phatak’s tenure as the municipal commissioner, toilets took precedence over Grade I heritage structures at CST. The bottom line is developer, toilets, greed, vote bank get more weight than heritage here.
Has a lot of heritage been lost in name changing? 
Yes. Like changing Alexander Road and Laburnum Road that were not named after the Brits but after trees. Arthur Bunder Road was allowed to be named after Abu Azmi’s father who had never even visited the site. The junction between Jamshedji Tata Road and Dinshaw Vacha Road, who were such great contributors to this city, will now be called Shankar Jaikishen Chowk. The ward office says it is because Shankar and Jaikishen would meet for a cup of tea at Gaylord’s. Can it get any more absurd than this?
My Comment:
These really raises issues like What is Heritage? and if the Competent authorities ain't doing anything, then can we as citizens raise our voices!
We are just not talking about South Mumbai here, also in the suburbs like Bandra (W), which has a the highest no. of listed heritage buildings in the Western Suburbs, is facing a similar situation.
Every week we see one of the old cottages in the Bandra Village Precinct coming down owing to urban development, even though its a listed building!

a house being brought down to ground in Ranwar, today (14th April, 2010)
one does not even remember of what it looked like, leave aside of conserving it. This house is a
part of the Bandra Village Precinct, by the Heritage regulations of MMRDA

well maybe it would have looked like this, a 1930's house right next to it!

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