Belapur fort survived time. Now, it has to survive red tape
The City and Industrial Development Corporation (Cidco) is busy developing mega projects across the city, but seems to have failed to check out its own backyard. Barely three km from Cidco’s head office in Belapur, is the more than 400-year-old Belapur fort. After constant reminders from residents and historians from the city, Cidco finally started the process to restore the 16th century structure.
Mohan Ninawe, public relations officer, Cidco, said, “After we got the nod from the archaeological department, we allotted ₹17 crore for restoration of the fort and tendering process was also done. However, as the highest quoted bid was higher than the budget allocated, the tender was recalled and retendering process will start soon. Also, the consultant for carrying out the work is yet to be decided.”
“Apart from restoring the fort, amphitheatre, food court, parking plaza and senior citizen centre has also been planned in the vicinity to make the place more happening and engaging.”
The fort in Kille Gaothan area in Belapur, constructed by the Siddis of Janjira in 1560, has been witness to glorious Maratha empire reigns. It has also seen the Portuguese and British eras, including when some part of it was destroyed after the British captured it. Now, however, it is facing civic apathy. While the crumbling structure has managed to survive against time, it is slowly losing the race. It sees very few visitors nowadays — mostly history buffs or those who want to get a glimpse of the ruins.
Reaching the fort is a herculean task. One has to wade through shrubs and bushes after reaching the village area. With the roots of huge trees penetrating deep inside its stone walls, the structure is crumbling.
In 2009, a proposal regarding restoration of the fort was put forward after historians and residents stressed the need to conserve the fort. It was also planned to allocate Rs10 crore for the restoration project and Cidco had appointed a Pune-based firm for the same, but the work never took off.
“Over a period of time, the fort has decayed a lot,” said Lanceya Menzes, a history enthusiast and resident of Vashi. “When I visited it some 12 years ago, it was in much better shape but times have changed. Most of the walls have fallen and looking at the present structure, it would be difficult to know what the structure looked like in the past. I don’t know how Cidco will do the restoration work. But as per their plan, it seems that they are more interested in developing other amenities near the fort rather than the fort itself,” added Menzes, who is a regular to the fort area to carry out her dissertation projects and research.
The fort area has also turned into a safe haven for anti-social elements and is infested with pests. Locals raised an alarm regarding this, following which the security personnel who guard the Cidco guest house, near where the fort area begins, keep a watch on those who enter the area.
The top of the fort offers visitors a bird’s eye view of the entire city. However, people can no longer enjoy the visual delight as stairs to the top have broken and there is no other way to reach it.
Maharashtra has a rich history of forts and the Belapur fort, which is crumbling, has so much history associated with it. There used to be an underground tunnel that connected the fort to Elephanta caves. Over time, the tunnel shut down but it still has its own historical importance.
--Siddhi Dawra, history blogger and Belapur resident
The fort was destroyed to shatter the Marathas’ stronghold, it was witness to the richness of the Marathas and is also linked with Peshwa Baji Rao, whose brother Chimaji Appa captured it from the British and named it Belapur fort. History tells us about our victory and losses, hence it is important that future generations know about it.
It is important to consult historians and conservationists during restoration so that the originality (of the fort) is not lost. It is very much possible to get the same material used in the construction of the fort for the restoration.
--Louiza Rodrigues, head of department of history, Ramnarain Ruia autonomous college, Matunga
It is important that an experienced architect along with historians is there in the restoration panel as the work needs a high level of precision and supervision. It is important that the main purpose of restoration of the fort should not be left behind in a bid to develop other amenities.
--Anita Nair, 28, history student and Kharghar resident
It is hard to believe that officials have woken up (only) now, when fort is about to collapse. All across the state, the government is taking steps to preserve rich history but here we fail to maintain an existing structure right under our nose. If we lose the fort, it means we lose history.
--Ananya Dage, 36, a Belapur resident for the past six years
We have seen the fort crumble in front of our own eyes. If the officials had initiated the work some 10 years back there was hope that we would have saved something but now, there is hardly anything to save. Yet, we hope that a leaf from history would be there to remind us of our glorious history.
-- Shankar Tamhane, 45, resident Killa Gaothan village
Creating mega cities and building skyscraper buildings is fine but what about maintaining and conserving history, which connects us to our roots? Isn’t it our responsibility to preserve this and hold this for generations to come?
-- Vivek Khera, 36, Belapur resident
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