Celebs, activists frown as Kolkata civic body razes heritage structures
Activists accuse Kolkata Municipal Corporation of degrading listed heritage structures that will enable demolition; state heritage body cites pressure from owners to delist.kolkata Updated: Apr 20, 2018 10:47 IST
The ‘city of palaces’ — as Kolkata was once known — is losing its architecturally unique palatial buildings rapidly, thanks to the Kolkata Municipal Corporation’s (KMC) regular ‘delisting’ of heritage buildings, a group of celebrities, intellectuals and people concerned with conservation of heritage alleged on World Heritage Day.
The likes of actor-filmmaker Aparna Sen, former Union culture secretary and Prasar Bharati CEO Jawhar Sircar, writer Amit Chaudhuri, and professor emeritus of Jadavpur University Supriya Chaudhuri were among those who gathered at Subodh Mallick Square in central Kolkata and walked to the KMC’s head office to protest the civic body’s move.
“Is Kolkata just about malls? Have we forgotten its heritage?”, “KMC can yoou demolish history?” read the placards they were carrying.
A few dozen students and teachers of Kolkata’s South City International School also joined the protest. Protesters alleged that KMC is frequently degrading heritage buildings to allow demolition.
Buildings listed under grades 1, 2A and 2B for heritage buildings can be modified but not pulled down. However, a Grade 3 listing allows the structure to be demolished on condition that a plaque stating the history of the building is installed inside the compound of the new structure.
“One has to keep in mind the economics related to old houses. The KMC cannot assist owners of heritage houses financially but houses having heritage tag require to maintain several guidelines for repair/modification, which adds to their expenses. Naturally, the KMC comes under pressure from house owners to delist,” said artist Suvaprasanna, chairman, state heritage commission.
He added that Nobel laureate Guntar Grass, during his trip to kolkata in 2005, had expressed his wish to gather funds for restoring some old houses in north Kolkata and spoke to then chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee about turning Bagbazaar into a heritage spot. It could not materialise due to litigations over property ownership and increase in the number of heirs with time.
In 1998, a government-appointed committee identified 1,363 buildings in the city as heritage structures. In 2009, 605 were listed under Grade 1, 110 under Grade 2A and 196 under Grade 2B. The rest were listed as Grade 3. Since then, about two dozen buildings have been degraded to Grade 3, activists allege.
“Kolkata will lose its identity if we lose our heritage buildings at this rate,” said Aparna Sen.
“Listed buildings should never be torn down as they are done in Calcutta. The government is looking the other way,” said Supriya Chaudhuri.
“We have to stand together to save Kolkata’s priceless heritage from destruction,” Jawhar Sircar, who has deep interest in Kolkata’s history, wrote on social media, calling upon people to join him at the protest.
Experts said, apart from architecture of various European influences, the city is also rich in its own, unique architecture that developed from a mix of European and ancient Indian architecture.
The CPI(M)-led Left Front ran KMC between 2005 and 2010 and since then Trinamool’s Sovan Chatterjee has been the mayor of Kolkata.
In 2016, Chatterjee had publicly said he believed the famous Roxy Theatre had ‘bogus’ architectural value, a comment the city’s heritage and architectural experts sharply criticised. Roxy represents Art Deco style that developed in France just before the outbreak of the first world war.
- Minerva Cinema (renamed Chaplin)
- Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose College, AJC Bose Road
- Pramathesh Barua’s house on Ballygunge Circular Road
- Ghulam Rasul mosque
- Old Kenilworth Hotel
Over the past couple of years, the KMC’s decision to delist such buildings as poet Madhusudan Dutt’s residence at Kidderpore (from Grade 1), the iconic Roxy Cinema (central Kolkata), the historic Metropolitan School and the old Kenilworth Hotel in south Kolkata, allowed their demolition.
Suvaprasanna said Dutt’s house could not be saved because documents related to the poet’s stay there could not be traced despite newspaper advertisements.
“Every year, the KMC is delisting one or two buildings to allow them to be destroyed. In some cases, we have moved court and have temporarily spoiled their plan. However, to prevent the tendency, it is essential to build public opinion,” said GM Kapur, convener of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH).
Kapur added that a Grade 1 building, the Ghulam Rasool Mosque on Shamshul Huda Road, Park Circus, was razed to the ground in broad daylight without any intervention by the KMC or police. “Authorities landed up at the site after the last brick had been demolished and served owners with a stop-work notice,” he said.