A little-known enclave of five quaint buildings at Tardeo,housing tenants from the Parsi community for over a century now,has won a prestigious heritage tag for its conservation efforts. The low-rise Sethna buildings on Wadia Street,which were painstakingly restored over the last few years,have been conferred the Unesco Award of Distinction for 2012.
Interestingly,this cluster of buildings with its characteristic Mangalorean tiles,verandahs and arched windows and doors,does not even find a mention in Mumbais own heritage list. Acknowledging the relevance of the restoration work,Unesco,which announced the award on Monday,stated: The complexity and cultural significance of the project is shown through the manner in which the project has successfully demonstrated,both in economic and social terms,the importance of the retention of the social character of this valuable part of Mumbais urban landscape.
The restoration was carried out by conservation architect Vilas Dilawari and funded by the Garib Zarthostiona Rehethan Fund Trust. The trust has restored over 45 community housing projects and spent Rs1.03 crore for the Sethna buildings project,in addition to arranging for temporary accommodation for tenants. Dilawari said while the government grants a floor space index (FSI) of up to 10 for redevelopment of these old buildings,there is no incentive for the landlords and tenants to conserve them. We realised that all that is needed to cover the cost of repairing and restoring the building was an FSI of 0.15. This can be used to add a floor to the structure,which can be sold off at market rates. Luckily,in case of Sethna builduings the trust chose to preserve the buildings rather than demolish and rebuild them, he said.
Dilawari believes that economic incentives from the government are important to preserve the communitys sense of identity and the social fabric of the city,a fact that was noted by Unesco. It has given the project the award for for protecting and extending the use and life of historically significant social housing under threat of demolition from urban renewal and development. However,the proposed heritage regulationsthat recommend setting up of a heritage fund by the government in addition to granting property tax rebates and other incentives has been gathering dust.
The Sethna buildings were amongst 43 entries from Asia-Pacific. This year,the Unesco award was given to nine sites,of which four were clinched by India. The three other sites are water system and the Chandramauleshwara temple in Hampi,Karnataka,and the Ha Raj Ji Mahal in Jaisalmer,Rajasthan.