It's an area of old stone structures, Art Deco buildings, a world heritage — and soon, four bright yellow skywalks.
In a move that has heritage experts and conservationists horrified, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority has proposed four elevated walkways between Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus — a UNESCO-certified world heritage site — and Colaba.
Forming one virtually uninterrupted yellow streak against the skyline, the skywalks will pass through an Art Deco precinct, several heritage buildings, the erstwhile Prince of Wales museum and the Mumbai police, Western Rail-way and BMC headquarters.
They will also stretch over the Azad and Cross maidans.
“Work will begin once our consultants complete their feasibility report,” said MMRDA chief engineer S. Nandargikar. “Also, after it gets approval from the heritage committee. It will be finalised keeping heritage aesthetics in mind.”
Urban planners argue that there isn't even a need for such walkways here.
“We don't need skywalks in that area. Unlike in the suburbs, the width of the pavements here is wide enough for pedestrians and they are also encroachment-free,” said Nayana Kathpalia of NGO Citispace. She and other members of the organisation have written to the chief minister, MMRDA commissioner and local MP, asking that the project be scrapped.
“Four skywalks will completely ruin the heritage look of the area. The authorities are planning projects without even studying the area or checking whether the area requires the skywalks,” Kathpalia said.
Pankaj Joshi of Urban Design Research Institute (UDRI) agreed. “Skywalks not needed in south Mumbai as the pedestrian corridors in that areas are very well defined," he said. “While skywalks are not a bad idea, they are a complete no-no in that area.”
Added urban planner V.K. Phathak: “The structure should be built keeping the feel of the place in mind. For south Mumbai, the steel yellow structure just doesn’t work.”
Conservation architect Abha Narain Lambah, meanwhile, was distraught. “I've seen the design of the skywalk in Bandra… it leaves much to be desired. The sites identified for these skywalks are in the precinct of Grade I and Grade II structures. But seeing the trend, our government had done nothing pro-heritage these days," she said.
Added Sharada Dwivedi, a conservationist and historian: "I completely support the [Citispace] letter. I don't think the authorities know the meaning of the word heritage. Additionally, they know nothing about view corridors and the importance of maintaining the skyline in heritage precincts."