HT Exclusive: Iconic Mumbai police commissioner’s building to undergo major repairs
The iconic Mumbai police commissioner’s building at Crawford Market is all set to undergo major repairs and restorations for the first time in its 120-year history.
The building, which once symbolised imperial power and continued to evoke awe even after Independence, is badly in need of repairs, to infuse life into the crumbling structure.
Top Mumbai police sources told HT that the public works department (PWD) — the custodian of the Grade-II (A) heritage structure — will soon invite tenders for the restoration project to be carried out at an estimated cost of Rs5.6 crore. Noted conservation architect Abha Narain Lambah has been appointed as project consultant.
“The estimates have been made and tenders will soon be invited,” sources said.
Over the years, the yellow basalt stone facade has shown signs of gradual decay, with cracks surfacing on its walls. “The police commissioner’s ante-chamber has to be covered in plastic sheets during the monsoon to prevent the office from being flooded,” sources said.
Several offices in the double-storied structure, including the main control room, were recently shifted to the newly-constructed annex building in the vicinity, owing to a space crunch and the dilapidated state of the chambers.
Sources said there are plans to convert the right flank of the ground floor — which used to house the office of three DCPs and the treasury branch — into a state-of-the-art museum. “The museum will showcase the history of the Mumbai police, along with the several declassified correspondences made during the Raj. It includes several hand-written letters exchanged between Mahatma Gandhi and the Mumbai police commissioners,” sources said.
The abandoned control room on the right-flank of the first floor will be converted into a conference room, while a guest room will be up in the adjoining chamber, which currently houses the office of the joint commissioner (administration).
Lambah said efforts will be made to retain the structure’s original shape and hue during the restoration works. “We will repair the roof, upgrade the electrical wirings, spruce up the corridors, floor and restore the rooms to their original condition,” Lambah said.
She added that in the first phase, only the ground and first floor will be restored. The second phase will include works on the tiled roof, and the desks on the top floor.
Owing to past renovations the building’s Burma teak columns and ceilings are buried under a layer of Plaster of Paris. Similarly, baring the ministerial staff room adjacent to the commissioner’s chamber, the original Victorian floor tiles have been replaced by glossy tiles or vinyl flooring. There are now plans to source Victorian tiles from local markets or from abroad.
“We hope the priceless wood used to construct the porches and the second floor roof is brought back to its original lustre,” a senior Mumbai police official said.
Mumbai police historian Deepak Rao said the building — an edifice of power — was obsessed over by the imperial police during the Raj, and by Indian police officers in post-Independence India. He cited an interesting anecdote from a book written by a former Mumbai police commissioner.
While handing over the keys to the police commissioner’s building on August 14, 1947, the last British police commissioner of Bombay, AE Caffin reportedly told his Indian successor — fellow imperial police officer JH Bharucha — to preserve the grace and beauty of the office. A heart-broken Caffin spent that night in a ship at the Bombay harbor, instead of his official residence at Malabar Hill as he no longer belonged to the city.
A brief history of the building
Work on the two-storied Victorian neo-gothic structure started on November 17, 1894, and was completed on December 24, 1896. It was designed by noted architect John Adams — who designed the Royal Yacht Club — and built by Harischundra Juggarnath Contractors.
Unlike the Maharashtra Police Headquarters — originally the Royal Alfred Sailors Home — at Colaba, built 20 years prior, yellow basalt was used in lieu of blue basalt.
Prior to the construction of the new police headquarters, the Sassoon building at Byculla — currently the anti terrorism squad’s headquarters — was used as the commissioner’s office. R H Vincent, Mumbai’s third police commissioner, was the first occupant of the building.
Police historian Deepak Rao said though the building was completed on December 24, 1896, it was inaugurated on January 1, 1897, and occupied by Vincent. “It was in keeping with the typical British tradition of inaugurating a new office in Mumbai on January 1, without exception.”