Over 2,000 manhole covers designed by Le Corbusier still in place, says survey

Many Corbusier-designed covers, bearing an impression of his master plan for Chandigarh, have been smuggled out and snapped up at auctions abroad for tens of thousands of dollars.

Written by Hina Rohtaki | Chandigarh | Updated: November 16, 2017 9:04 am
chandigarh architect, le corbusier, french architect chandigarh, manhole, indian express A heritage manhole in Sector 22, Chandigarh. Express

In a new move to preserve Chandigarh’s unique Corbusier heritage, the UT Administration has just completed a survey of the special manhole covers designed by the city’s Swiss architect and found that there are more than 2,000 such covers. But, there is still no count of how many have disappeared.

Many Corbusier-designed covers, bearing an impression of his master plan for Chandigarh, have been been smuggled out of City Beautiful and snapped up at auctions abroad for tens of thousands of dollars. The good news is that there are still a fair number left – 2,224 – to be exact. The survey has discovered that they are all over the city – at government schools, police stations, temples, jail, streets and shops.

A detailed report of the manhole inventory, prepared jointly by a team of the Administration and Municipal Corporation, has been submitted to the urban planning department.

According to details of the survey accessed by Chandigarh Newsline, a residential locality in Sector 23 has 44 of the “heritage” manhole covers, while there are 40 in Burail jail. Two spots that see thousands of visitors – Inter State Bus Terminus (IBST) Sector 17 and Government Multi Speciality Sector 16 – have as many as 27 and 46 manhole covers, respectively. GMCH-32, too, has 41 such covers. CTU depots in the industrial area, too, have 33 such covers while the CTU depot at Sector 3 has 17. Police stations sector 3 and 17 also have four and two heritage covers.

READ | Prepare inventory of Le Corbusier’s art works, ASI suggests Chandigarh Administration

The highest number of manhole covers are in Sector 20 that is 78 of them of which 62 are visible and 16 not clearly visible. Internal lanes of Sector 8 have 77 such covers while Sector 35 has 76 such covers. There are 27 such manhole covers on the campus of Punjab Engineering College itself.

The survey covered UT-administered areas as well as MC-administered areas of the city. The survey has revealed 1,432 covers in MC areas. The Administration’s team has found 792 covers.

City activist Ajay Jagga, a member of Chandigarh Heritage Conservation Committee (CHCC), said many manhole covers have disappeared but as there was no proper survey in the past, the number of stolen manholes is difficult to pinpoint.

The Administration realised the value of these manhole covers only after one was sold for Rs 10.87 lakhs at an auction in Paris. In 2014, two manhole covers were stolen from the CBI office in Sector 30 as well and have remained untraced. The administration is of the view that the remaining covers, too, could easily be stolen and sold in the international market. This was the concern that prompted the survey with the CHCC also mooting that GPS chips should be fitted in them, or alternately, all of them should be removed and placed in storage.

As per the details, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has 47 such manhole covers while the Haryana Civil Secretariat has 41 and Assembly hall 18. Government schools in sectors 18, 21, 22A, 24A, 10, 32C, 34D, 37C, 37B,38B,40,41-C, 43A, 44B, 45A all have one to two such covers. Governor House Punjab and Haryana, Adviser’s House have two manhole covers each.

A senior officer of the Administration said, “We will be directing the MC that at least till the time we don’t find a permanent solution for the protection of these manhole covers, area SDOs should know the number in their jurisdiction and let them be accountable for those covers if any theft takes place. They should conduct a weekly check to see if the covers in their jurisdiction are in place.”

Former UT Chief Architect Sumit Kaur said, “How many such heritage things will we uproot and store at one place? When we are going smart, either we have one centralised system of monitoring these covers or have GPS tracking chips in them. We have to preserve them.”

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