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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 December, 2004, 11:04 GMT
Mumbai's heritage under threat

By Zubair Ahmed
BBC correspondent in Mumbai

When it comes to buildings in the bustling western Indian city of Mumbai (Bombay), old is certainly not gold.

Neglected building
Many old buildings are in a state of neglect
Bursting at its seams, the city of 16 million people has been witnessing a frenzy of construction in the last few years.

In a city where real estate prices are among the highest in the world, old buildings are being torn down to build high-rise apartments.

Gothic and Victorian style heritage buildings in posh southern Mumbai are most under threat.

Much of the area was laid out during the British colonial period.

Fashion designer James Perriera, who lives in his ancestral home, laments what he says is general apathy towards saving the city's heritage.

"South Mumbai has a cosmopolitan character of its own and we are losing it."

Frenzied construction

In a busy area of southern Mumbai, construction work at a site is in full swing.

Lots of people criticised the development - but they are looking at it from the point of view of only restoration
Buckley Court architect Hafeez Contractor

A multi-storey residential complex is being erected where an 18th century heritage building once stood.

It was pulled down because it was considered unsafe for living.

Mumbai's municipality has graded heritage buildings on the basis of their historical significance and physical condition.

For example, the majestic Victoria Terminus railway station gets premier grading because it has been recognised as a Unesco World Heritage Site.

But the lesser-known buildings on the list are facing the onslaught of the builders.

Victoria station
Victoria station is a Unesco World Heritage Site
City authorities deny that old buildings are being pulled down to make way for skyscrapers.

But few residents buy this.

They say the makeover of a complex like Buckley Court is an example of commercial exploitation of the city's old buildings.

Today, Buckley Court looks like a hybrid between an art deco style building and a high-rise monstrosity.

Muddled makeover

Building designer Manit Rastogi describes the revamp as an example of "cheating the system".

Mumbai skyline
New sits alongside old in the drive for more housing
But other designers say it is a happy compromise between the city's need for more housing and its effort to preserve heritage buildings.

Hafeez Contractor is the architect who designed and rebuilt Buckley Court.

He says: "Lots of people criticised the development. But they are looking at it from the point of view of only restoration. Had it been only restoration then it would have been a different matter.

"I have redeveloped that building. If the question is whether I have done justice to the building after the redevelopment, then my answer is, yes."

Mumbai's old buildings are not a completely lost cause - yet.

Conservationist Sharada Dwivedi has helped restore a number of heritage buildings in the city.

She says many private companies are helping to restore the old buildings.

Such local community movements are needed to prevent the demolition of heritage structures, says Ms Dwivedi.

Restoring glory

Spreading awareness, she says, is key to preserving your past.

Elphinstone college
Some buildings like Elphinstone college have been restored
Kalaghoda in southern Mumbai is a prime example of what restoration can do to old buildings.

Here the Sassoon Library building, Elphinstone College and the Army and Navy Building have been restored to their former glory.

Work has also been done to maintain the character of the Victoria Terminus building, one of city's main landmarks.

But the roof of Mumbai's most prestigious British building continues to leak and the walls are in a state of disrepair.

Cynical residents ask: If this is the fate of a World Heritage Site, how can the lesser known old buildings be saved?

It is a good question.

Delhi colonial bungalows under threat
29 Oct 04 |  South Asia
Bid to save Calcutta landmark
17 Jun 02 |  South Asia

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