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Saturday, July 31, 2021

‘Newly repaired’ part of Belapur Fort collapses: Locals, activists blame CIDCO, ‘poor conservation work’ by contractor

Since the restoration project of the fort began in 2019, local activists and volunteers have been objecting to the way the site is being “redeveloped”

Written by Vallabh Ozarkar | Mumbai |
Updated: June 14, 2021 1:06:40 am
While heavy rain lashed the city, the wall of Belapur fort collapsed in Navi Mumbai on Saturday afternoon. (Express Photo)

Local residents have blamed CIDCO (City and Industrial Development Corporation ) and “shoddy conservation” work by the contractor for the collapse of a portion of Belapur fort on Saturday amid heavy rain and winds.

Since the restoration project of the fort began in 2019, local activists and volunteers have been objecting to the way the site is being “redeveloped” and allege that it is an attempt to commercialise the heritage monument instead of preserving its historicity.

“The portion which collapsed was newly repaired by the contractor, and it collapsed in the first rain itself. This is evidence that the work was of cheap quality and was done using cement, which is wrong. The construction on such forts has to be done using lime and jaggery water as a binding agent, and not cement as it doesn’t bind the hard rock basalt,” said Shankar Wasmane, a local conservationist who works for the protection and preservation of old forts.

He said the contractor was using cement in the main fort too. “We strongly demand that action should be taken against the contractor responsible and officials of Cidco…. the fort needs to be restored as it was earlier and not be developed for commercial purposes,” Wasmane demanded.

Ajay Barge, from Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan, a group of volunteers that works for the preservation of forts, said,”Belapur fort is the sole historic monument in the city. The administration could not preserve it. The parts which are newly built and recently repaired are crashing down. We demand that the fort should be handed over to the Archaeology Department for restoration and conservation,” he said.

Nitin Chavan of the Nationalist Youth Congress (NYC) had, in August last year, complained to Cultural Affairs Minister Amit Deshmukh and NCP MLA Shashikant Shinde about the “poor quality” of work being done on Belapur fort.

In his letter, he had stated that under the name of conservation of Belapur fort, the monument’s existence was being put in danger. He had also stated that the work was carried out by CIDCO and the contractor without having any expertise in conservation and preservation of historical monuments. The letter further stated that permission from the state Archaeological Department had not been taken.

Following the complaints, Deshmukh had taken cognisance and directed the state Archaeology Department (SAD) to inspect the monument and provide necessary technical guidance. In October, the department had put a stay on the work, saying the site needs to be inspected to verify the allegations of cement being used for the restoration.

Tejas Garge, director of SAD, said, “We had stayed the project which was under execution. We conducted technical evaluation of the work, and after providing proper guidelines on how the work should be done, last week, we had given them a no-objection certificate.”

Now, CIDCO has started removing debris from the collapse and scaffolding from the site. “The interlocked scaffolding would be detached from old stone masonry and the probable unsafe portion of the stone masonary would be brought down with the help of two cranes. For this purpose, 25 labourers have been engaged. If required, the adjoining site office would be shifted to safety for avoiding any kind of mishap. The whole work will take around two days at least,” read a statement from CIDCO.

The traffic police has also blocked the road and traffic has been diverted.

On the allegations of shoddy restoration work, CIDCO stated, “The work of restoration of existing dilapidated structure is done strictly using lime. Earlier PCC for plinth protection for certain parts of the fort wall was done in cement. As per consulting conservation architect, this was done to avoid falsifying of facts between heritage structure and new work. The use of cement was discontinued from October 2020 and now all works are done using lime only.”

The wall of the fort’s watchtower situated in front of the NMMC building in Bekasur area of the city came crashing down at 1 pm on Saturday.

A contract of Rs 17 crore was given by CIDCO to carry out repair and construction work of the fort. The restoration work contract was awarded in December 2019 to Sawani Construction.

The fort was constructed by Abyssinian descended Sidi rulers of Janjira on the Konkan coast in 1560. The Portuguese conquered the area more than a century later. In 1733, it changed hands to the Marathas, when Chimaji Appa, the brother of Bajirao Peshwa, captured it from the Portuguese. It was with the Marathas till 1817 before it was conquered by the British.

It was planned that the fort area of 5 acres under CIDCO’s jurisdiction will be developed as a tourist spot as well as an educational and cultural centre. CIDCO has assigned the task to Kimaya Architects, known for their experience in the restoration work of historical places.

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