Fearing construction activity and encroachment on one of the last surviving large green lungs of the city, the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee (MHCC) has written to the state government’s Urban Development Department, requesting them to not dilute the Shivaji Park’s current Grade-I heritage status and to maintain the “sanctity” of the place.
The Dinesh Afzalpurkar committee, appointed to review Shivaji Park’s heritage status, has knocked off the prestigious maidan from the Grade-I list of heritage structures. MHCC chairman V Ranganathan said, “Grade-I is the highest status that can be attributed to a heritage maidan like Shivaji Park. Lowering it from that status will only pave way for construction in that zone, which is one of the few surviving heritage spaces of the city. We have preserved Oval Maidan for so many years without allowing construction, Shivaji Park deserves the same status.”
After a series of hearings with residents, builders and political representatives of the area, the Afzalpurkar review panel, in its report to the state government, proposed two major changes — removing the adjoining Shivaji Park precinct, under which there are 187 buildings; and giving the Maidan a new grade of heritage status of ‘Open Space’ (OS).
Conservation activists in the city were surprised at the move as the protected heritage status of the maidan was never in contention.
“It is surprising that none of the residents or politicians objected to the maidan’s heritage status during the hearings,” said a former member of the heritage committee. “The committee’s job is to only present a report on the suggestions and objections of the residents. By de-listing an environmental asset, the report has endangered the survival of other maidans.
The category of open spaces is new and there are no guidelines listed for it,” he added.
Retired bureaucrat Afzalpurkar, however, said his report recommended the inclusion of a new category called “open spaces”, which would be equivalent to that of Grade-I heritage status.
The new category of “open space” for Shivaji Park maidan will in no way permit any construction on it, he said. “We cannot continue to retain it in the Grade-I list because the category restricts development around 100m surrounding the area. It will hamper the re-development of the 187 buildings,” he explained.
For Grade-I heritage structures, as per section 67 of the Development Control Regulations, 1991, a buffer zone of 100 metres surrounding the structure is formed where the “view to” and the “view from” the said structure must be maintained. While there are no specific regulations to construct in the zone, any development activity here falls under the purview of MHCC.
The issue came to light in 2013 when some buildings in the area, whose residents say the structures are extensively dilapidated and need to be pulled down and reconstructed, were denied redevelopment permissions on account of the heritage status of the buildings. The Afzalpurkar committee was set up to study the matter.