Almost two years after Mehrangir – home to Homi Jehangir Bhabha, the architect of nuclear science in India – was sold, the building is being pulled down to make way for a multi-storeyed building.
The 17, 550sq-ft house near Kamala Nehru Park on Malabar Hill, was sold for Rs372 crore to Smita Crishna-Godrej in a public auction conducted by its custodian the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA) in June 2014. Smita, sister of industrialist Jamshyd Godrej, is a director in Godrej Holdings Ltd, and Naoroji Godrej Centre for Plant Research and Raptor Research and Conservation Foundation.
In March, the Supreme Court had asked the Maharashtra government to decide whether the bungalow can qualify as an “ancient monument under the Maharashtra Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act”, before disposing a petition filed by Raam Dhuri, president of National Forum for Aided Institutions. The Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee had opined that Mehrangir does need the “heritage structure” tag.
“While there is no stay order on the demolition, the state government has not communicated their stand on the apex court’s directions. Even before their decision, the bungalow is being torn down,” said Prashant Worlikar, president of Atomic Energy Workers and Staff Union.
Months before the run up to the sale of the bungalow, two labour union leaders had moved the Bombay high court seeking directions to stop the auction of Mehrangir. They also sought direction to the state government to preserve the bungalow as a heritage structure in memory of ‘the father of the Indian nuclear programme’.
“The demolition of the bungalow is a blot on Indian culture. If it wasn’t for Bhabha vision we would neither be a nuclear state like Pakistan and China nor would have been able at the forefront of cancer research and therapy,” said Worlikar. ““When homes of leaders like BR Ambedkar, who stayed in London for only two months, can be bought, it’s a shame that we could not save Bhabha’s home, which would have been an inspiration for students to take up science and especially nuclear physics.”
Bhabha who established the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) at Navy Nagar lived in Mehrangir – a combination of names of his mother Mehrbai and father Jehangir – till his death in 1966. His brother Jamshed then became the custodian of the Bhabha estate. An avid patron of arts and culture, Jamshed willed the property to the NCPA that he founded.
Before the bungalow was sold, every important paper belonging to Bhabha, including his personal letters and letters by important dignitaries, were handed over to the TIFR.