Khotachiwadi demolition: Experts ask state to incentivise heritage property owners

Experts and residents have time and again urged the government to incentivise maintenance of heritage properties, such as via rebate in property tax, water tax
The original heritage list was made between 1975 to 1982, according to Sukthankar, after comprehensive consideration (Pratik Chorge/HT PHOTO)
The original heritage list was made between 1975 to 1982, according to Sukthankar, after comprehensive consideration (Pratik Chorge/HT PHOTO)
Updated on May 25, 2022 10:23 PM IST
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ByEeshanpriya M S

Mumbai The recent protest against the partial demolition of a bungalow in the heritage precinct of Khotachiwadi in Girgaum has again stirred up the longstanding debate over the feasibility of maintaining heritage structures and the ethics of heritage conservation.

Experts and residents have time and again urged the government to incentivise maintenance of heritage properties, such as via rebate in property tax, water tax, or even aid in maintaining structural stability of such properties.

A senior civic official, who did not wish to be named, said, “If we do not preserve our heritage now, some years in the future you will hear the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) declaring that it’s creating a model of how heritage buildings looked. By then, the building or locality’s original charm will be lost.”

DM Sukthankar, a retired IAS officer and the former municipal commissioner, who also chaired the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee (MHCC), said, “A decade ago, we proposed to the government to give incentives to heritage property owners, that will encourage them to look after their properties. We proposed an incentive in property tax. For those who want to take up the extensive structural repair work, we propose loans be made easily available from any registered bank, at lower than the usual interest rates.”

These suggestions were part of an exhaustive report following the upgradation of the heritage list. The original heritage list was made between 1975 to 1982, according to Sukthankar, after comprehensive consideration.

Sukthankar said, “At the time, we could see that generally, those who had their buildings listed as heritage properties, objected very strongly. We noticed that some people perceived the government is trying to restrict a private property owner in how to deal with their property, which is private business. The other aspect was that Mumbai is a historical heritage city, and we can join the community in preserving it. A city that wants to preserve its heritage, must be willing to give incentives as well. We were looking at it as a give and take relationship.”

Presently, no changes can be made to a Grade I heritage property. Mostly these are government-owned properties, or are temples or churches, and since institutions are incharge of their caretaking, it is easier and financially viable to maintain them, experts feel.

In case of Grade II structures, some alterations are permissible without changing the character of the precinct or structure, and in case of Grade III and precincts, changes can be made after permissions from the heritage committee, and without changing the character of the structure. Buildings in precincts may or may not have individually distinctive features, but need to conform to the collective characteristics of their neighbourhood.

Andre Baptista, a resident of Khotachiwadi and an archaeologist and culture historian, said, “We have to consider the ethics in heritage conservation. But at the same time, we cannot preach preservation, and tell private individuals to compromise on the quality of their life. Maintenance of heritage properties does become difficult. For example, homes in Khotachiwadi were buildit in the 1800s, and electricity and water connections were not part of their layout. We have to understand why we speak about preservation. It all comes down to the ethics of the matter. In my own home, we had to make the outhouse into a partial toilet.”

Baptista added, “Government does have a few incentives. They need to be curated well, need to be published and made accessible.”

Presently, owners of heritage buildings can sell the floor space index of their plot as transferred development rights (TDR) within the same ward as well. Moreover, cessed heritage buildings can approach MHADA for major repairs.

A member of the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee said, “Rules for heritage buildings have been drafted very clearly. There are incentives such as heritage TDR. Giving direct incentives to owners is a big process if it needs to be done. But no one is saying don’t repair your property. In fact, the grading of heritage structures allows owners a lot of interventions if done with all permissions.”

Rajan Jayakar, a solicitor and Mumbai historian, said, “I have spoken about this before on multiple platforms. We need to incentivize heritage property owners in some way, to encourage maintenance of heritage property.”

Heritage properties are often thought of as a liability by their owners, as repair work is tedious and redevelopment impossible due to existing rules.

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