On World Heritage Day, on April 18, concerned citizens of the city will take out a march to protest against “consistent razing” of heritage buildings and constructing skyscrapers in its place. The protest will be organised by Calcutta Architectural Legacies (CAL), INTACH and PUBLIC ( People united for better living in Calcutta). The march will be from Subodh Mallik Square to the offices of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation.
Kolkata-based author Amit Chaudhuri first started CAL and the movement to conserve Kolkata’s heritage architecture in 2015. “The organisation emerged after I ran a campaign in 2015 in which we sent letters to the CM, the mayor, the KMC commissioner with the city’s most eminent citizens as its signatories, to preserve Kolkata’s heritage architecture,” says Chaudhuri.
The march is not only to take this movement forward but to protest against the rapid de-listing of heritage buildings in the city. The de-listing of a heritage building, says Chaudhuri, is simply to make way for its subsequent demolition. “Just last month the old Kenilworth Hotel was demolished. It is to be replaced by a 35-storey residential complex,”he said. The demolition took place after the hotels heritage status was downgraded by the KMC. Located at the crossing of Middleton Street and Little Russel Street, the hotel was one of the oldest in the business.
Regional head of INTACH in Kolkata, GM Kapur says, “We want to ask the government how and why this is happening? There are a wide range of establishments, both private homes as well as public institutions, which have been affected by the government’s apathy. The Ghulam Rasul Mosque, a Grade I heritage structure, was demolished last year. The Gate to the Bishops home on Russel Street was also demolished by a developer. We put a lot of pressure on the Corporation to make sure that the gate was rebuilt. It’s the promoters who stand to gain most from the de-listing and the demolitions, apart from the owners themselves. We want to sit down with the government and talk to them, not as a confrontation, but as a discussion to see how it can be averted. And how a private owner can continue to keep and conserve his property without feeling burdened by a heritage tag.”
Chaudhuri says that while other cities like Mumbai and Delhi have designated heritage zones, like Marine Drive or Lutyens’ Zone, Kolkata had no such designated heritage precinct. “And this is something we have been demanding. Kolkata has extraordinary heritage neighbourhoods in both north and south Kolkata. There isn’t a single city in the world, whether a New York or London or Paris or Istanbul, that has not benefited from creating and maintaining heritage zones. There are ways to make these areas financially attractive. But the government right now is not even willing to acknowledge the problem,”says Chaudhuri.