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One last chance?

india Updated: Jun 21, 2009 01:06 IST
Naomi Canton
Naomi Canton
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

There is a glimmer of hope that the disappearance of heritage bungalows in south Mumbai’s Khotachiwadi quarter might yet be halted.

The Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee, which advises the municipal corporation, said last week that it was thinking of offering incentives to owners of heritage buildings that are also “cess structures” — in need of repair — to preserve them instead of selling them to builders. This would include three-fourths of the locality’s once ubiquitous Portuguese-style bungalows.

“We are thinking of offering owners of such buildings financial incentives like concessions in property tax and grants for repairs,” Dinesh Afzulpurkar, the committee’s chairman, told HT.

Khotachiwadi was declared a heritage precinct in 1995, which meant that owners needed the heritage committee’s permission to make any alterations. But in 1999, the state government amended its Development Control regulations so that it became lawful for “cess” buildings in heritage precincts to be demolished.

Over the years, the “cess” bungalows have gradually been demolished and replaced by apartment blocks and hotels. The quarter, originally built by East Indian fishermen and farmers in the 18th and 19th centuries, has just 28 bungalows, down from about 88 in its heyday.

Swiss Urban planner Matias Echanove (32), who lives in this quarter, is working on a project to encourage residents to make their homes income-generating.

“The typical pattern is that owners have little income and cannot afford repairs,” he said. “So they come under pressure to sell the place.”

He hopes to help owners rent floors out to art galleries, cafes, boutiques, or shops. One bungalow owner, for instance, is renting out one floor to a private gym, several people said. Fashion designer James Ferreira, who lives in the quarter, also runs his workshop on the top floor of his bungalow.

Echnaove is also creating a website http://www.khotachiwadi.urbz.net to create awareness about the neighbourhood.

There is some scepticism about the heritage committee’s plan. “I wouldn’t put my money on it happening,” said Abha Narain Lambah, a conservation architect in Mumbai. “There is no political will.”

“The only person who can save the bungalow is its owner,” said 78-year-old Theresa Pereira, once a tenant in a bungalow until it was sold in 2003 to make way for a seven-storey building.

If the traditional owners can’t, perhaps newer ones like Dr Henal Shah (45), a psychiatry professor, and her husband Dr Rakesh Shah (48), a paediatric surgeon, will.

They bought their bungalow 12 years ago and spent lakhs restoring it. “We have become heritage lovers after moving here,” Henal said.