Painting CSMT? Bandra, Sewree forts still scarred by cultural vandalism
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Painting CSMT? Bandra, Sewree forts still scarred by cultural vandalism

Workers restoring the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CSMT), were painting the stones on the façade

mumbai Updated: Jan 27, 2019 23:40 IST
Manoj Nair
Manoj Nair
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,Maharashtra,ASI
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus is undergoing intensive restoration.(HT Photo)

Earlier this month, this newspaper reported about how workers restoring the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CSMT), were painting the stones on the façade – a strict no-no as a conservation technique.

The railway station is listed as a Grade -1 – the highest grade of protection – in the city’s list of important architectural sites and is on UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites – one of the three from Mumbai. The building, constructed in the 19th century, is undergoing intensive restoration and has completed the first phase that included repairs to the roof, waterproofing and removal of unsightly annexes, including a toilet block, that were added during the decades of neglect.

The Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee (MHCC) of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), which maintains a list of historically and architecturally significant buildings and sites in the city, wrote to the railways warning that any irreversible intervention carried out at the site would adversely impact the building’s heritage character and also be a threat to its UNESCO listing. MHCC reminded the railways that the correct way to restore stone facades is to clean it with water as painting can affect the stone’s strength and destroy the aesthetics of the structure.

The railways have replied that they have not painted the stone – though photographs indicate otherwise, but MHCC said they will be visiting the site shortly to investigate. The MHCC has directed the railway administration to remove the paint and obtain a No-Objection Certificate from them to ensure that work in future does not violate conservation rules.

This is not the first time a government agency has been accused of cultural vandalism in Mumbai. A decade ago, workers restoring Bandra fort - Castella de Aguada - had plastered cement on its stone and brick walls in an attempt to restore the crumbling 17th century building. The fort still bears the scars of this ruinous job. Architects restoring the Crawford Market, constructed in 1869 A D, found that the original layout had been destroyed and the stone facades and statues painted in hideous colours. The Sewree Fort, which has a similar vintage as the one at Bandra, has been plastered in cement. Conservators who worked on Flora Fountain, which was unveiled last week after nearly two years of restoration, had to remove layers of paint that had been applied on the Portland stone.

The Old Secretariat Building, which now houses the Mumbai City Civil and Sessions Court, is both architecturally and historically important. The Venetian Gothic structure, which was completed in 1874 A D, was the venue for historical trials, including that of Lokmanya Tilak. The building is well preserved, but its compound is filled with ugly PWD blocks that mar its lower façade. “Every (heritage listed) building has some kind of inappropriate conservation job,” said architect Chetan Raikar who worked with the railways in the first phase of conservation work at CSMT. “This could be because the client did not have enough money or was swayed by chemical manufacturers (trying to palm off new products).”

The vandalism continues though there are guidelines. The handbook on conservation of heritage buildings, released in 2013 by the Central Public Works Department (CPWD), the main government construction department which maintains structures like the Rashtrapati Bhavan, Kolkata’s Victoria Memorial, says that any addition, alteration and development of a heritage structure should complement the building’s original scale and form. The manual says that painting stone is a no-no from the conservation point of view as paint will not only lead to the deterioration of the stone but any subsequent efforts to remove the paint can damage the surface of the masonry. The only solution then will be to let the paint wear off.

Architects specialising in conservation said it is not the lack of rules that has been a hindrance to preservation of architectural sites. “What is lacking is sensitivity towards what the structure needs.” said Raikar. “Do not replace the material: that is the golden rule of conservation.”

First Published: Jan 27, 2019 23:33 IST