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THEATRICS surrounded her even at birth—it took four years of laborious land reclamation before George Wittet’s design for the Gate...

Written by Kavitha Iyer | Mumbai |
December 19, 2004

THEATRICS surrounded her even at birth—it took four years of laborious land reclamation before George Wittet’s design for the Gateway of India could even begin taking form. She was finally completed in 1924, a good 13 years after the visit of King George V which she commemorates.

That unhurried pace continues to vex the redevelopment of the Gateway precinct, despite the sudden haste under the grandiose Vision Mumbai plan for beautification and infrastructure enhancement.

So the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee is now faced with the unpalatable task of having to pick between two different plans. Worse, both designs are by highly credible and accomplished agencies now jammed in a feud that only portends tragedy for urban heritage restoration in Mumbai.

One is by renowned architect Charles Correa, the other by the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH). Incidentally, INTACH and Correa worked together in 2001 on a Gateway precinct redevelopment proposal that was turned down by the heritage committee.

That friendship is history now. Correa is associated with the Urban Design Research Institute (UDRI), which has tied up with the municipal corporation for reviving several sites in the South Mumbai Fort area.

INTACH, on its part, is advising the archaeology department on the repairs to the Gateway monument, is restoring the 130-year-old Bhaudaji Lad Museum and has to its credit various restoration projects across the country. So naturally, this rivalry seems to be about who gets a larger bite of the heritage redevelopment pie that has no money in it but a whole of prestige. ‘‘It might be a good idea to place plans for such important monuments for viewing by the larger public, for a democratic decision-making,’’ says heritage committee chairman, D M Sukhthankar.

THE OPEN GATE

Charles Correa’s 2001 design featured a road bifurcating the precinct. His fresh proposal still prominently includes that road, for motorists driving past to enjoy a view of the 83-feet high monument. There are also pontoons for floating jetties and a single, unified car park on the other side of
the road
INTACH’s fresh plan, by architect P K Das, proposes to raise part of a garden facing the monument, where visitors can relax and enjoy the view. It also ambitiously brushes past at least two high security spots—a six-metre wide strip for a proposed 400-metre long promenade is Naval land and a proposed museum complex would lounge beside an atomic energy commission offic

A decision on the current impasse is yet to be made, he adds, ‘‘once we’re certain that all our concerns are met’’.

THE Gateway herself has already endured the fallouts of the rift between various heritage activists. In October 2000, the ‘‘chandelier controversy’’ saw one group of heritage activists and restoration sponsors’ proposing to hang a chandelier from the Gateway’s dome.

Another group, including INTACH, hotly resisted the move, with the result that the monument was finally removed from the jurisdiction of the heritage committee and was placed under the state archaeology department.

‘‘This controversy will only mean that the city will lose yet another golden opportunity to see a historical area restored,’’ says city historian and author of several books on Mumbai, Sharada Dwivedi.

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