Mumbai: Heritage precincts lose protective cover, set for highrise development

Official statistics show that the city has about 60 heritage precincts, so far been characterised by their low-height cityscapes.

Written by Sandeep Ashar | Mumbai | Published:November 5, 2016 2:06 am

After pioneering India’s first-of-its kind regulations in 1995 to protect heritage buildings, Mumbai now appears set to see some of its architectural legacy getting diminished. While the Maharashtra government has launched the much-delayed move to notify a revised heritage list for the country’s business capital, it has stripped the protective cover of several heritage sites and precincts, thus opening up avenues for highrise development on and around them.

Official statistics show that the city has about 60 heritage precincts, so far been characterised by their low-height cityscapes. Just as the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Heritage Conservation Society had, as early as in 2005, taken up the task of revising the 10-year-old heritage list which was restricted to structures in South Mumbai, the state government has now begun notifying the revised heritage list on a ward-wise basis starting this week, when the Urban Development department, led by the chief minister, notified the revised list of heritage building in five municipal wards including the D-ward, which covers Malabar Hill, Nepean Sea Road, and Peddar Road. The other wards for which the revised list was notified included F-North (Sion, Matunga East), F South (Parel, Lalbaug, Chinchpokli), G South (Mahalaxmi, Worli), and G North (Dadar, Mahim, Matunga West).

Although the last sanctioned heritage list for Mumbai had 588 structures, the state government had issued a draft notification on July 31, 2012 notifying an additional 868 properties on the basis of recommendations of the heritage conservation society, which meant that the heritage regulations applied to about 1,456 properties in Mumbai.

But in the latest list issued for the five wards, the government has omitted over 50 per cent entries. While a total of 430 properties in these wards had been granted heritage status in either the sanctioned list or the draft notification, the revised list has brought this number down to barely 209.

The most glaring omissions concern heritage precincts and residential buildings in such belts. The government had left out Dadar’s Hindu Colony and Shivaji Park precints. Similarly, the BDD chawl precinct, where the government has already proposed highrise development plans, has been omitted. While the draft notification had said that a Grade II-A status — buildings of regional or local importance with special architectural features or aesthetics — be accorded for setting up a “heritage streetscape” for buildings along the Mahalaxmi temple precinct, the government has deleted this mention. Similarly, the recommendation of a similar tag for the buildings alongside the Banganga temple precinct in South Mumbai too has been shot down.

The iconic Kanchanjunga Apartments, considered a landmark in modern architecture in Peddar Road, was not listed even as the Bellevista building complex in Peddar Road, where it is situated, has been accorded a Grade II-A status. The Dilkhush residential complex in Malabar Hill has been omitted too. Another precinct in Dadar, the Krishna Nagar precinct, which has been shown in the city’s new development plan as a slum cluster instead of a vulnerable precinct to be preserved, was also left out.

Heritage conservationist Abha Narian Lambah said, “Even though I’m a heritage conservationist, I must admit that there was a need for some sort of rationalisation. What the city’s heritage needs is to have a policy for incentivising preservation of privately-owned buildings.”

Dinesh Afzalpurkar, the former Mumbai heritage committee chairman, who headed the government’s heritage review committee for the revision of the list, said, “For areas marked as heritage precincts, we deleted certain portions that did not resemble the precinct’s overall character.”
Afzalpurkar said, “While recommending deletion of the Shivaji Park precinct and Hindu Colony precinct, our panel had said restrictions on scale and extent of development had called for planned development. I’m not sure if these recommendations have been accepted.”

The government’s revised list makes no mention of these restrictions.

Some iconic buildings including state government’s guest house Sahyadri and a few ministers’ residences, the Land’s End House, Sethna Building on Malabar Hill, Nepean Sea Road’s Killachand House, which was once owned by the Maharaja of Patiala, and the Darya Mahal, Grant Road’s Pannalal Terrace, Lalbaug’s Batatawala Mansion, and Matunga’s Lakhamshi Napoo Hall, have also been left out of the heritage list, opening up avenues for their development.

Ironically, the Maharashtra government struck down the proposal to elevate the heritage grade for sea-facing buildings near Girgaum Chowpatty. The 2012 draft notification and the review committee had both recommended that these building be tagged as being of regional or local importance (Grade II-A), but the state government’s revised list tags the cluster of buildings as belonging to Grade-III category, which denotes building or precincts of importance for townscape. Significantly, the city’s new development draft permits Grade-III heritage structures and precincts to be redeveloped up to 10 storeys instead of the earlier 24 meters without any special permission from the commissioner’s office. “We had recommended an elevation for the cluster of buildings near Chowpatty since we felt that similarity and uniformity for all buildings in the Marine Drive precinct must be maintained,” said Afzalpurkar.

But the government has rejected this proposal. “The state’s town planners opined that the sea facing buildings were already a part of the larger Marine Drive precinct, and so there was no need to carve out a sub-precinct. The planners also felt that since it was a cluster of residential buildings, it would be unfair to impose restrictions on their development with a higher heritage tag,” said a senior government official. The government also stepped in to refuse an elevated heritage tag for Girgaum Chowpatty’s Orient Club.

The heritage tag was also shelved for some old chawls in South Mumbai. “The distinctive features in several of these old chawls have been compromised or lost. Also many of these are in dire need of redevelopment. So instead of largescale inclusion as recommended in the draft notification, we focussed on the ones where the distinctive features continue to exist,” explained Afzalpurkar.

“We have tried to find a golden mean between heritage conservation and development. Most public heritage structures included in the 1995 list were retained.” The heritage status of the iconic Birla House and the RBI Governor’s bungalow in Malabar Hill has been raised from Grade III to Grade II-B. Industrialist Yash Birla had earlier approached the civic body with a plan to raise money by parting with a portion of the unutilised development rights (TDR) of the heritage structure. The heritage listing of Mahalaxmi temple has been raised, too. Municipal Commissioner Ajoy Mehta, when contacted, echoed Afzalpurkar’s viewpoint. “While we need to protect the city’s heritage, we need to strike a balance to ensure that families residing in dilapidated buildings are given an opportunity to redevelop.”