Saddled with a glorious past

Residents of Shivaji Park are fiercely opposing Grade-I heritage status that would limit redevelopment or repairs of their buildings even as state’s top heritage panel cites their illustrious history to accord the tag.

Written by MAYURA JANWALKAR | Published: December 11, 2013 3:53 am

Residents of Shivaji Park are fiercely opposing Grade-I heritage status that would limit redevelopment or repairs

of their buildings even as state’s top heritage panel cites their illustrious history to accord the tag.

ALISON SALDANHA AND MAYURA JANWALKAR take a look

While a Grade-I heritage status would be a matter of pride for a building or a locality,residents of Shivaji Park are peeved with the tag which,according to them,diminishes the possibility of redevelopment or repairs of buildings that are over 70 years old.

“Our building in the precinct is over 70 years old and we re-plaster and carry out major new repairs every few years. Currently,we have seepage problems. We are only 13 residents in the building and we would like to redevelop it to put an end to our problems. If residents from other parts of the city such as Parel and Worli are allowed to convert their homes into high-rises,why should we be deprived of this right? We are ageing and would prefer to have amenities such as lifts and freshly constructed stable homes. How can the heritage committee deny us this?” says Sudhir Mogre,who lives in Bhagirati Prasad building on Shivaji Park road.

Senior citizens Arun Chitale and Damodar Nayak,who contested the heritage tag in the Bombay High Court,stated in their petition that since there were no lifts in the buildings,senior citizens found it very difficult to climb up the higher floors.

Moreover,the buildings do not have sufficient open spaces between them,leading to parking of vehicles on both sides of internal roads. “Political meetings and rallies at the Shivaji Park ground,religious processions etc add to the gravity of the problems for the residents,” they added.

Mesmerised by the galloping development of neighbouring areas in South-Central Mumbai,the residents also wish to avail of the benefits of redeveloping cessed properties.

To a visitor,Shivaji Park appears to be a scratchy field that,above all,serves as the nursery for Mumbai’s famous cricketers. However,situated in the heart of Dadar,the precinct populated mainly by Maharashtrians is the prized bastion of homegrown political parties,Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena,which have since their inception based their existence on the cause of the “Marathi Manoos”.

While the regional parties too have opposed the classification of Shivaji Park as Grade-I heritage,the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee (MHCC),ironically,has cited political movements and the first rally of the Shiv Sena,held 48 years back,among reasons to conserve the precinct as a heritage.

Sitting on prime real estate with access to a sea-view,the politically conscious region that is already a base for the Maharashtrian Builders Association has also caught the imagination of developers.

Apart from hosting national independence rallies in the 1930s and 1940s,Shivaji Park was also the ground for rallies during the Maharashtra Samyukta movement of 1956 that led to the formation of a separate state of Maharashtra.

Bal Thackeray,the late founder of the Shiv Sena,held his first ever rally at the Shivaji Park and was finally laid to rest there.

Today,Shivaji Park has become the battleground of heritage conservation versus growth.

Already,residents from adjoining areas of Dadar,Matunga,Wadala,Sion and Sewri have joined the protests.

Developers fuelling protests,says Heritage panel

On its part,the MHCC,which has cited a number of reasons to justify the top heritage status proposed for the precinct,says it has not closed doors to the concerns of the citizens. “We are open to granting permissions for installing lifts in the old structures and repairing them as and when required. We are not even against redevelopment. The main objective of classifying the area as a heritage precinct is to retain its cultural and social heritage,” MHCC chairman V Ranganathan says,adding that the MHCC clears basic proposals for necessary repairs without delay and on priority basis.

In its affidavit submitted to the Bombay High Court,the MHCC has justified Grade- I heritage tag for Shivaji Park,saying the petition filed by residents opposing the heritage tag “thrust upon” them was not maintainable.

The process of considering the suggestions/objections to the BMC’s proposal of July 31,2012,- making 868 additions and 127 modifications to the existing heritage list – has not been completed,the committee has said.

“There appears to be a campaign against the preservation and conservation of heritage in the city of Mumbai. This campaign appears to be at the instance of persons involved in the development of property in Mumbai for profit without regard to concerns involving Mumbai’s heritage,” the MHCC has said.

According to the MHCC,the precinct consists of 192 buildings of which 22 have been redeveloped or are under redevelopment but none of these were placed before it when the BMC ought to have sought its approval.

According to the MHCC,“Shivaji Park precinct fulfils several criteria in this list…..its contributions span across the social,architectural,historical understanding of Mumbai.”

The heritage tag took 5 years to come

THE LIST

After bureaucratic delays of more than four years,the BMC published the newly proposed heritage list in 2012 in which the Shivaji Park neighbourhood was listed as a Grade-I heritage site. Experts appointed by the Heritage Conservation Society of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMR-HCS) had drawn up the revised heritage list that expanded the existing list of 633 notified structures and precincts in the island city to 848 structures spanning the eastern and western suburbs.

In July 2008,the heritage panel wrote to the Urban Development Department (UDD) asking it to either publish the list or instruct the BMC to do so. Two months later,the UDD directed the BMC to publish the list and conduct public hearings as part of the process before notifying the list. Thereafter,the process was put on the backburner during the terms of the next two committees. The list was finally published only after the current heritage committee was appointed in July 2012.

HISTORY

The Shivaji Park residential enclave consists of about 192 buildings,some of which have already been redeveloped in the last 20 years or so. The remaining cluster of structures still stand as a window into the Dadar-Matunga-Wadala-Sion urban planning scheme of 1899-1901. While the other precincts of Dadar,Matunga,Wadala and Sion have been accorded grades of II-A,II-B and III respectively,Shivaji Park has been accorded Grade-I status.

The Bombay City Improvement Trust had conceived the development of this area at the time to relieve congestion in the centre of the city following the plague in 1890s. The plans regulated construction with emphasis on proper sanitation and open space between structures. The land use was planned to be a mix of residential,commercial and institutional. Parks and gardens were planned,and the streets were laid out accordingly. Today,senior citizens are the main component of the demographics of this upscale South-Central Mumbai neighbourhood that is considered to be a prized piece of real estate in the space-starved island city.

GRADING HERITAGE

According to heritage regulations,structures are graded based on their architectural value,age,physical condition and national and local importance,among other criteria. Grade I structures consist of the finest of the city’s heritage and are subject to the most stringent preservation norms that apply both to internal and external alterations to these. Grade II-A and II-B require owners to maintain the facade but allow for changes internally for adaptive reuse. Grade III structures and heritage precincts are considered significant to the townscape and repairs/reconstruction are allowed if these preserve the historic ambience of the neighbourhood including the skyline.

Why Shivaji Park fits the bill

Architecture

Shivaji Park was an indigenous response to the Art Deco movement where Marathi architects blended vernacular socio-cultural symbols to the global architectural influence prevalent in the pre-independence era.

Social and historical significance

Shivaji Park has always been the ground zero mass protests and gatherings. The Samyukata Maharashtra Chalval where Acharya Atre spoke to large crowds was held at Shivaji Park. The Shiv Sena led by Bal Thackeray held its first rally here. Thackeray’s funeral procession culminated here.

Sports

Shivaji Park is the only open park where children can bee seen enjoying almost all kinds sports,from cricket and soccer to indigenous sports like mallakhamb and kho-kho. A number of cricketing legends such as Sunil Gavaskar,Sachin Tendulkar,Ajit Agarkar,Pravin Amre,Sandeep Patil,Vinod Kambli and Sanjay Manjrekar began their careers here.

alison.saldanha@expressindia.com

mayura.janwalkar@expressindia.com

For all the latest Mumbai News, download Indian Express App

    Live Cricket Scores & Results