Amid all the recent conservation success stories, there are voices of caution warning that not enough is being done by the policy makers.
“Building and development control regulations have been framed in such a way that they act as a disincentive to the preservation of heritage. If you reconstruct a building, you get floor space index (FSI) of 3.9 and this is lucrative given the demand for land in Mumbai. So, it is more profitable to raze a building,” said V Ranganathan, veteran bureaucrat who used to head the Maharashtra Heritage Conservation Committee (MHCC). “Old buildings owned by government agencies stand neglected as not much is done to preserve them,” he points out.
Conservation architect Chetan Raikar, who was involved in the restoration of CST, said, “You must conserve the past for a better future. But the city is still not doing enough for the protection of urban heritage as it should have.”
Ranganathan said there were no incentives for private heritage conservation. “There are no tax rebates or compensations for restoring or redeveloping old structures, which is the need of the hour for a city like Mumbai,” said Ranganathan.
But it’s not all gloom and doom. “Over the years, with people becoming more aware about these structures, we managed to get the funding through government policy changes. Many buildings like the Town Hall, Bombay High Court, Old Secretariat and other private ones came under the purview of the government. What started off as a citizen-led movement has been able to transcend to the government level, with separate allocations for the protection of heritage buildings,” said Abha Lamba, conservation expert.
Vikas Dilawari, another conservation architect, has a different opinion. He said there was lack of encouragement when it comes to allocating funds. “In the present set up, there are no matching grants or encouragement for repairs. Strange as it may sound, redevelopment gets incentive of FSI, but repair is completely neglected, which requires a fraction of FSI given for redevelopment,” he said.
A senior official from the MHCC identified the pros and cons for the current scenario when it comes to conserving heritage structures in Mumbai. “The primary issue that we face, especially in the Island city — from Colaba to Mahim — is that 99% of them are cessed properties (under the aegis of Rent Control). There is a tendency to neglect these properties if redevelopment permissions are not in place, which results in them slowly disintegrating. There is also the lack of compensations and incentives, hence there are no buyers,” he said.
He added, “After the new list was out, funds have been dispensed for their safe keeping and restoration, all over the city. So there is awareness and it is a good sign.”
But the quality of restoration work needs improvement. “While we are far more robust on a national level in terms of civic interaction and the government’s engagement when it comes to heritage, we are nowhere near international standards. If we pitch Mumbai against a New York, Rome, London or Paris, we abysmally behind in terms of funding and a more holistic vision,” said Lamba. “But Mumbai’s heritage conservation is largely credited to citizens’ associations. The Oval Maidan, Kala Ghoda, Dadabhai Naroji Signage and others — these initiatives have been led by citizens, making them the champions.”