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New heritage rules set to redefine Mumbai skyline

Maharashtra government eases development curbs around heritage structures

mumbai Updated: Nov 05, 2016 01:22 IST
Manasi Phadke
Your city’s skyline is likely to get a new look with the state government removing or downgrading several proposed precincts and structures from the list of protected heritage sites.
Your city’s skyline is likely to get a new look with the state government removing or downgrading several proposed precincts and structures from the list of protected heritage sites.(Hindustan Times)

Your city’s skyline is likely to get a new look with the state government removing or downgrading several proposed precincts and structures from the list of protected heritage sites.

The move can also pave way for vertical development around some of the city’s most celebrated heritage sites such as Banganga Tank, Mani Bhavan and Raj Griha among others.

The decision, however, has raised the hackles of activists and conservationists, who have for long strongly opposed attempts to dilute heritage rules. In Mumbai, especially in the island city, where real estate prices are sky-high, there has been tremendous pressure from developers for redevelopment of structures that have been built up to a century ago.

In its final heritage list for five of Mumbai’s richest administrative wards — in terms of architecture and heritage — the state government has dropped the proposed ‘heritage precinct’ tag for areas such as Dadar’s Shivaji Park and Hindu Colony.

It has also decided to let the BMC commissioner take the final decision on demarcation of the buffer zones around Grade-I heritage structures — sites considered to be of national or historical importance. This effectively means that different Grade-I heritage structures are likely to have different boundaries as buffer zones, as decided by the municipal commissioner, to maintain the prominence of the site.

Until now, as per Section 67 of the city’s Development Control Regulations (DCR), there has been a mandatory buffer zone of 100 metres around Grade-I heritage structures, where the ‘view to’ and ‘view from’ the heritage structure needs to be maintained. Any development activity in this zone falls under the purview of the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee (MHCC).

Abha Narain Lambah, a conservation architect, said she is “extremely disappointed at the government’s decision. “My biggest concern is that the moment you remove the 100-metre mandatory buffer zone, you will have all sorts of development around important heritage sites. You might have a high-rise towering over Mani Bhavan, for example,” she said.

The state’s latest notification, with the final list of heritage sites in the D (Malabar Hill, Napean Sea Road); G North (Dadar, Mahim, Matunga West); G South (Worli, Mahalaxmi); F North (Sion, Matunga East); and F South (Parel, Lalbaug) wards says, “In case of each heritage Grade-I buildings, areas, artefacts, structures, the municipal commissioner may prescribe the boundary around it, earmarked on plan also, to maintain/preserve characteristics of such heritage Grade-I buildings, areas, artefacts, structures.”

The state government has notified nine Grade-I heritage structures — Banganga Tank, Mani Bhavan, Sion Fort, Mahim Fort, Sewri Fort, Raj Griha, Shivaji Park ground, Dharavi Kala Killa, and Worli Fort — across the five wards.

Besides, although the draft heritage list drawn in 2012 had proposed the Royal Opera House in Girgaum to be upgraded to a Grade-I structure, the state government has retained it as a Grade-IIA heritage site. It has also downgraded the Haji Ismail Yusuf’s tomb in the Haji Ali Dargah complex to a Grade-IIB structure from a Grade-I site.

Justifying the state’s move, an official from the state urban development department (UDD), which is headed by chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, said, “Not all heritage structures are important because of their view. For example, Raj Griha, where Dr BR Ambedkar lived, or Mani Bhavan, where Mahatma Gandhi lived, are significant because of their historical value from the inside. It may not make sense to restrict development in all of 100 metres around these sites. On the other hand, a structure like the Gateway of India is known for the magnificence of its view, which must be maintained by an appropriate buffer zone.”

DM Sukhthankar, a former municipal commissioner of Mumbai’s civic body, said if the state is of the opinion that there should be different buffer zones for different Grade-I heritage structures, it should be left to the MHCC to decide the boundaries. “There ought to be some kind of a buffer area around Grade-I structures and leaving it to the whims and fancies of one single person is not wise,” said Sukhthankar. “If the decision is left to the heritage committee, there will at least be a consensus opinion, discussions and thoughts of planners and architects.”

MHCC chairman Ramnath Jha, however, said he was travelling outside Mumbai and will be able to comment only after taking a briefing on the published list.