Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Bangalore's heritage buildings on their last legs

Bangalore's heritage buildings on their last legs

Swathi Shivanand and Sharath S. Srivatsa

Racing towards modernity, the metropolis is losing its graceful old structures. The city planners do not seem too perturbed

# There is no law to stop demolition of heritage buildings
# Proposal to conserve 741 monuments is in cold storage

STANDING TALL: The Attara Kacheri (1868) housing the High Court of Karnataka survived a move to demolish it in 1982, thanks to public outrage. But how many heritage buildings can resist the bulldozer? — Photo: Sampath Kumar G.P.

Swathi Shivanand and

Sharath S. Srivatsa

Bangalore: Demolishing its past for posterity, Bangalore continues to lose chunks of its old world charm.

A few weeks ago, the nearly 80-year-old, European classical style building that housed the Taluk Office on Kempe Gowda Road vanished from the city's landscape without evoking protest, not even a whimper.

It will give way to an eight-storeyed building, adding to the concrete jungle.

The city enthusiastically embraces modernity — often accompanied by the most horrendous kitsch. Is there a collective amnesia for its rich past?

There seems to be an alarming disdain for its history. Magnificent old structures are quickly making way for state-of-the art buildings with glass facades.

In the process of development, some of Bangalore's showpieces have been replaced by unimaginative, if not downright unaesthetic structures.

The residence of Sir M. Visvesvaraya, the architect of Bangalore if not of modern Karnataka itself, which could have been converted into a museum, was demolished in the late 1970s and the Visvesvaraya Towers was built in its place on the Ambedkar Veedhi.

The Government Press and Sudarshan Guest house were torn down to pave the way for the Vikasa Soudha.

The renovation of the court building next to Mayo Hall, built in 1904, taken up by the Public Works Department, has turned the ornate building hideous. No consideration for motifs and detailing has gone into the restoration plan, another example of the lack of knowledge on heritage.

It is this attitude that has resulted in Bangalore, a city that dates back to sixth century A.D., losing much of its heritage, says M.A. Parthasarathy, former Chairman of the now dissolved Bangalore Urban Arts Commission (BUAC), and H.R. Prathibha, convenor of Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH).

The absence of a law in favour of heritage conservation has never been as sorely felt as now.

"While it is understood that a building is of heritage value if it is about 100 years old, there is no law to stop people or the Government from pulling it down," says Ms. Prathibha. "There is no one looking at the long-term sustainable development of the city in terms of heritage. It has become very difficult to put the brakes on such progress," adds Mr. Parthasarathy.

Heritage apart, a building also acquires social, economic and aesthetic significance. Also, if it has a role to play in the establishment of the city's past, then it gains heritage status too.

Apathy dogs conservation issues. Strangely, the Government did not offer any reasons when the Urban Arts Commission was dissolved in 2001. While government officials acknowledge that the heritage structures are disappearing in the absence of guidelines for their protection, the commission has not been replaced by any other agency.

The fate of INTACH's proposal to the State Government to conserve and upgrade 741 monuments in Bangalore, as has been done in other cities, is in cold storage. Though a Department of Heritage exists, it has no jurisdiction to prevent the demolition of old structures in Bangalore.

Steps needed

Conservation efforts desperately need government backing in terms of law, an apex body for regulation and, more important, financial incentives. About 100 heritage bungalows in Cantonment, Malleswaram and Basavanagudi have been lost in the last 15 years, and the process has been faster during the last five years, says Suresh Moona, Director of An Association for Reviving Awareness about Monuments of Bangalore Heritage (AARAMBH).

Many modest-sized properties that merit heritage status can be saved with government assistance as the prohibitive cost involved in conservation is burdening many middle-class families, says Mr. Moona. The least that the Government can do is to offer these owners rebate in property tax besides providing financial assistance to maintain the structures, he says.

Conservation architect Ravindra Gundu Rao points out: "The number of heritage buildings being demolished has come down in Mumbai and Hyderabad as heritage regulations made demolition illegal. Without a regulation in place, it is impossible to preserve heritage structures."

The collective conscience of Bangaloreans, besides regulation, is the need of the hour to the save heritage structures so that the proud symbols of the past are passed on to posterity, amid the cacophony of development.

But there is a silver lining. Educational institutions, the Defence establishment and the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike are doing commendable work in nurturing their heritage buildings.

The Hindu features a series on citizens and their concerns in this space every Wednesday. Readers may share experiences in relation to published articles and email their feedback or suggestions to or post them to Public Eye, The Hindu, 19 and 21, Bhagwan Mahaveer Road, Bangalore 560001. Mails must carry full name and address.


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