The Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee (MHCC) has decided to ask the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (Mhada) to stop restoration work on Esplanade Mansion, the 130-year-old heritage building in Kala Ghoda.
The decision was taken following complaints by the building tenants that the housing authority was damaging the place through haphazard work, which was reported in the July 1 edition of Hindustan Times.
“We will be writing to the state housing department to step in, and until a conclusion is arrived at, Mhada will be asked to maintain status quo,” said Dinesh Afzulpurkar, chairman, MHCC.
The MHCC will ask the state housing department to intervene and consider Esplanade Mansion as a special case so it can be handled with more care.
Mubarak Khan, senior member of the Mhada repair board, said all precautions will be taken while undertaking repairs. “We will act according to the directions of the Heritage committee.”
Built in the 19th century, the Grade IIA four-storeyed heritage structure is the oldest cast iron structure in Mumbai, and once housed the famous Watson’s Hotel, where author Mark Twain has stayed.
The MHCC will also be looking at whether Mhada has been following the guidelines given to it before work began.
“We told them to have a conservation architect on board before beginning work. They were also asked to undertake a survey of the building,” said a member of MHCC, requesting anonymity.
Former MHCC chairman Sharad Upasani initiated the process to save the heritage building, which was in a dilapidated condition.
In 2006-07, Upasani had written to the state government, Mhada, the Kala Ghoda Association, the owner and the tenants about the need to restore the structure.
“The Mhada does not have the expertise to restore it,” said Upasani. “A building like this needs professionals and architects to restore it.”
The Mhada usually undertakes construction of affordable homes across the city. It was asked to handle this project because it is a cessed building and therefore its responsibility and because the building owner could not afford to take on the restoration project.
Upasani said he had suggested that the government take over the building and do the restoration on its own.
“I made several efforts then to get all the parties together, but the government did not respond positively then. Now, the government has created a special fund for restoration activities,” he said.
Civic officials said fresh attempts will be made to revive the failed talks with the government so that the structure gets the attention it requires and deserves.
“We have made several attempts in the past, but this building is too prestigious to give up trying,” said a heritage committee member, requesting anonymity.
The official said there are more than 150 tenants in the building currently, some of whom have built several illegal extensions, mezzanine floors and staircases, all of which need to be cleared.