Heritage houses — fundamental questions

The revised list of proposed heritage sites in the city has met with stiff political opposition in the past few weeks. But owners of the private heritage structures have remained largely silent. They are caught between the want to preserve personal heritage and the need to redevelop properties for practical reasons. They view the categorisation indignantly,still struggling to understand what value their homes add to Mumbai’s heritage. Alison Saldanha speaks with owners of two such old properties who have little or no faith in the proposed incentives. In fact,they see the heritage tag as an “infringement on fundamental rights”.

Written by Alison Saldanha | Published:September 11, 2012 2:19 am

The revised list of proposed heritage sites in the city has met with stiff political opposition in the past few weeks. But owners of the private heritage structures have remained largely silent. They are caught between the want to preserve personal heritage and the need to redevelop properties for practical reasons. They view the categorisation indignantly,still struggling to understand what value their homes add to Mumbai’s heritage. Alison Saldanha speaks with owners of two such old properties who have little or no faith in the proposed incentives. In fact,they see the heritage tag as an “infringement on fundamental rights”.

Unnecessary interference

The Nazareth bungalow off Bhawani Shankar Road in Dadar (west) stands tall amid the hustle and bustle of the crowded street. More than a hundred years old,it exemplifies a fusion of local and Portuguese architectural styles with its earthen tiled roof,natural stone flooring,stained glass facade and wide verandahs.

In August,the Nazareths received a call from their lawyer that their home was on the new list of proposed heritage sites as a Grade III. “My grandfather purchased this house in the early 1930s. We have no intention to sell it. This is unnecessary inteference from the government,” said Danielle Nazareth (23).

Dreading the red tape that is to follow the tag,she said,“We changed the wooden flooring on the first floor as seepage was spoiling it. In 2002,we modernised the kitchen for convenience,and we paint the house every 10 years or so. Now if I want to change the colour of the paint I use for my house,I’ll have to listen to the recommendations of the heritage committee – why should I? As the years go by the house will get older,and the grade will rise restricting me further,but the structure will only irreversibly weaken.”

The passage of time bears a telling sign on the bungalow. On the roof,wooden beams lean heavily onto the structure as it trembles slightly every time a road-roller passes by. “In our repairs we try to stick to the original structure. We’re just one family living here so it turns out quite costly. So,we try to ration out the preservation work,” said Nazareth.

“The shops in front pay us rent but they fall under the old Rent Act hence the money hardly helps to upkeep the place.”

The selection process for the list,Nazareth feels,was haphazard. “The house behind ours is as old if not older but is not on the list though it could use the protection of a heritage tag. It looks like the panel only added houses its members saw when passing by the road.”

Infringement of rights

Between the residential high-rises on the paver-block street off the road to Khar Subway,resides the mildly inconspicuous Patronage bungalow. Now home to Colette and Garth Louis and their two sons,the house was built in 1935 on a 760-square-yard plot bought on lease for 999 years.

“When my wife’s father built the house,he had no architectural style in mind so I don’t believe this house adds to the heritage value of the city,” said Garth Louis.

On August 26,a friend of the Louis’ informed the family that their house was on the new heritage list as a proposed Grade III structure.

“This is absolute stupidity and a complete infringement on my fundamental rights. The government cannot tell me what I should do with my house — that’s invasion of privacy. Tomorrow if I want to replaster my walls I will have to seek BMC permission. By the time I get the permission a year would have gone by and the structure would have fallen on our heads!” he says angrily.

A narrow concrete garden stands before the one-storey house as rain forms small pools of water in the low-lying strip. In 2008,as part of a road-widening exercise,the civic body sent a week’s notice to the Louis’ asking them to demolish their front boundary wall.

“In the heavy rain on September 3,I had to wade through three feet of water from the gate to my doorstep. Every two years,I have to grout the terrace with white cement and mosaic tiles so that the walls don’t suffer from seepage. I was told by a very good architect that my house also suffers from a honeycomb effect so I have to also do the trellis work on the roof every two years,” says Louis.

He adds,“The house has a lot of sentimental value because of which we haven’t yet sold it but in the future for my children if I do wish to sell it why should I ask for anyone’s permission to do it?”

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