What should be done to transform Kolkata into a UNESCO World heritage city?

Will Calcutta be a UNESCO  heritage city ?
Will Kolkata be a UNESCO world heritage city?

The idea of declaring Kolkata as a world heritage city by UNESCO has been floating around in recent times. There have been several meetings in relation to this subject, including a two-day meeting in February 2019 between the State Government authorities and UNESCO State Authorities. There have been various other discussions on the topic at Victoria Memorial Hall and at the office of External Affairs. Of late, we are witnessing the emergence and repetitive usage of phrases like “Heritage awareness”, “Heritage conservation”. There have been a plethora of heritage walking tours around the city. The question that arises at this stage is “Does Kolkata really deserve to be declared a heritage city?” or “Has enough being done so that the city deservedly gets a heritage city tag?”. Come, let us find it out.

Criteria for becoming a UNESCO World Heritage city

First let us take a look at Ahmadabad, the only city in India which has been declared UNESCO World Heritage City. There are many UNESCO World Heritage sites located at several cities in India, but this happens to be the only case where a complete city has been declared as UNESCO World Heritage site.

The case of Ahmadabad as UNESCO World Heritage city has been explained in the UNESCO website in the following manner:-

The walled city of Ahmadabad, founded by Sultan Ahmad Shah in the 15th century, on the eastern bank of the Sabarmati river, presents a rich architectural heritage from the Sultanate period, notably the Bhadra citadel, the walls and gates of the Fort city and numerous mosques and tombs as well as important Hindu and Jain temples of later periods. The urban fabric is made up of densely-packed traditional houses (pols) in gated traditional streets (puras) with characteristic features such as bird feeders, public wells and religious institutions. The city continued to flourish as the capital of the State of Gujarat for six centuries, up to the present.

In short, urbanization has not destroyed the essence of the old city. The other factors that went in favour of Ahmadabad was that out of 50 Museums of Gujarat 22 are at Ahmadabad and the fact that city’s several architectural marvels are a blend of both Islamic and Hindu styles, other than having several colonial architectures.

To be included on the World Heritage List of UNESCO, the site must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one out of ten selection criteria as provided in the UNESCO website.  Ahmadabad was selected on the basis of criteria ii and v, where the historic architecture of the city of the 15th century Sultanate period was considered as a reflection of the culture of the ruling migrant communities. Ahmadabad city’s settlement planning was considered as an outstanding example of human habitation.

 

Bhadra Fort, Ahmadabad. Photo Courtesy : Wikimedia Commons, photo by : Tejaherwal
Bhadra Fort, Ahmadabad. Photo Courtesy : Wikimedia Commons, photo by : Tejaherwal

It may be mentioned here that while deciding on Ahmadabad, UNESCO mentioned categorically “Ahmadabad includes 28 monuments listed by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), one monument listed by the State Department of Archaeology (SDA), and 2,696 important buildings protected by the Heritage Department at the Ahmadabad Municipal Corporation (AMC).”

Any city may become a member of the Organization of World Heritage Cities (OWHC) if it possesses the following two characteristics. Firstly, the city has to be the location of a living urban fabric of historic or contemporary interest. Its outstanding universal value has been recognized by the UNESCO and therefore has been registered in the World Heritage List. Secondly, the city has to adhere to the values of the OWHC.

The cities that are typically listed usually had one of the following two specialities:-

  1. Home to multiple cultures
  2. and/or preserve significant architecture having important historical significance

It is important to note that the city must not have significantly changed its basic character. If it is being done, UNESCO may delist the city from its list of World Heritage.

The Case of Kolkata

Like many UNESCO World Heritage cities, Kolkata has been home to multiple cultures for a long time. Out of them the Armenians, the Jews, the Parsis and the Chinese community still live in Kolkata. We have Armenian Church, Jewish Synagogue, Parsi Fire Temple, Chinese temple and even a Portuguese Church and last but not the least a Greek Church. Along with the English, the Scotts settled at Kolkata too. As relics, we have Scottish Cemetery together with Chinese, Greek and Jewish cemetery. We have one of Asia’s few surviving colonial centres in the form of Dalhousie Square whose peripheral areas have not seen much changes. The ‘Para’s ( community area) of North Kolkata with their age-old mansions and narrow lanes are reminiscent of the old city.

It is not easy for a city to get a UNESCO World heritage tag. Before applying to UNESCO for heritage status, one first needs to list the number of heritage monuments within the city and define heritage zones as per the location of such monuments.

In Kolkata, at present, there are only 6 heritage monuments protected by the Archaeological Survey of India, Kolkata as against 28 such monuments in Ahmadabad. These are:-

  • Metcalfe Hall
  • St. John Church
  • Currency Building
  • Old Building of the Asiatic Society
  • Maghen David Synagogue
  • Beth-el-Synagogue

How many monuments are protected under Kolkata Municipal Corporation?

Now, this is where we should have scored heavily over Ahmadabad or get close to the number of heritage building under Ahmadabad Municipal Corporation (AMC). If one visits the Kolkata Municipal Corporation Website, a list of Graded Heritage Building will be found with the year showing 2009. This means the list is not updated and even if there is an updated list, it is not in the public domain. This list shows the number of buildings to be 915. We can hope this number would have surely increased in the last 10 years by leaps and bounds in the updated list. It can surely not decrease. After all, this is not the 1960s.

 

Maghen David Synagogue - one of the ASI protected monuments of Kolkata
Maghen David Synagogue – one of the ASI protected monuments of Kolkata

In the 1960s, “heritage conservation” was actually an alien term. Added to this, there was an environment of “Ultranationalism”. The statues reminding the legacy of Raj were promptly removed and replaced by those of national heroes. Nobody cared about the fact that most of the statues replaced were work of art and those replacing them were actually caricaturing our stalwarts. The best example is that of the statue of Netaji Subash Chandra Bose at Shyambazar Five point crossing. Not only is it an eyesore in the name of a great man, but it actually an unskilled copy of the statue of Lieutenant General Sir James Outram. The 1960s saw the demolition of two fine examples of colonial-era buildings – the Dalhousie Institute at Dalhousie square and the Senate hall at College Street.  The city almost lost another heritage building in the form of currency building, but timely intervention stopped its demolition in 1998. ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) took possession of the building in 2005.

The present year is 2019.  It is considered that several of the residents of Kolkata and the Government of West Bengal is somewhat ‘heritage conscious’ at present. We can assume safely that this heritage consciousness about the city has developed over the last 10-15 years. In the early 2000s, Dalhousie Square was not exactly a tourist attraction as the colonial buildings in the area were in a rundown state. That has changed at present as mansions like Currency Building, Telegraph Office and Standard Assurance building has been restored to its former glory. There has been restoration work going on inside the writer’s building too. In a similar manner, we have witnessed the restoration of Esplanade Mansions, Metropolitan building, Town Hall, Metcalfe Hall, Park Mansion, Lascar Memorial, Memorial of James Prinsep and very recently the RNM Galleria 1901.  This gives a hope that the heritage awareness has increased over the years and definitely in the present day, we will not see the demolition of structures similar to the Senate Hall and Dalhousie Institute. The number of monuments declared protected under KMC will increase.

Now, is this hope justified? Recently, there was a big hue and cry in Kolkata over the demolition of a heritage building to make way for a 35 storied residential tower. This was the Old Kenilworth hotel. It was initially a Grade II building, which was downgraded to Grade III by the heritage committee of KMC after receiving an application from the developers.  It is not clear as to on what basis this building was degraded.

Besides KMC, Kolkata has the West Bengal Heritage Commission (WBHC) for protection and restoration of monuments. However, the most surprising fact is that two prominent West Bengal Heritage Commission (WBHC) members condemned delisting of heritage buildings by KMC in a meeting last year. To quote from Times of India, (Nov 28, 2018) Conservation architect and WBHC member Partha Ranjan Das “The manner in which the heritage committee (of KMC) has gone about quietly de-listing buildings is suspect and detrimental to the city’s built heritage. This has allowed developers to demolish graded heritage buildings, such as Dunlop House and Kenilworth Hotel. Even the gradation is all wrong. Architecturally wonderful buildings are graded lower than those that have no such feat features. UNESCO has clear guidelines on the heritage that should be followed while grading.” In the same meeting, WBHC chairman Suvaprasanna expressed concern over the delisting.

In the same report, it was mentioned that initially 2500 heritage buildings were drawn up for the heritage list but the number ultimately was reduced to 800. This figure appeared in other newspapers too including ‘The Telegraph”.

Thus the city of Kolkata is at present with 6 ASI protected monuments and less 1000 KMC protected monuments based on newspaper reports that came out in December 2018. By now whether the list has gone down much below 800 is anybody’s guess.

This baffles an ordinary onlooker as to who ultimately is the authority to delist a building from heritage building list?  Since the updated list of Heritage Building is not available in the KMC website, it is understood that the initial list of 915 heritage building has now gone to 800, instead of going up.

If this number was to increase to 2500, the question is what stopped it?  Instead why around 100 heritage buildings were delisted. This is indeed is a big number. Did KMC delist all these buildings without informing WBHC? If they needed a nod from WBHC on this matter, did they take it? Was it mandatory? If KMC delists a heritage building does WBHC has the authority to re-enlist it?

Here it would not be irrelevant to mention that WBHC member Partha Ranjan Das said that he believed Kolkata’s heritage building list should be over 2500 in number.

The rules of KMC as depicted in its website have some contradictory clauses in it. One says that construction can be built in the precinct of a Grade II Building, while the other says nothing can be built to obstruct the view of the building.  To quote the law as from KMC website “But new construction may be allowed in the open land within the premises in a compatible manner with the heritage building. In no case, new construction should obstruct the view of the heritage building.”

The definition of precinct here is actually 25 feet distance from the building. This can cause a major misunderstanding. To start with what does obstruction of view actually means? Can it be officially defined? Suppose a real estate build a high riser twenty-five feet behind a two-storied heritage building. So when that giant chunk of urban concrete mass looms behind a heritage building, it technically does not obstruct the view. However, it definitely spoils the view. Is this permissible? So if you see giant oppidan architecture 25 feet behind Victoria Memorial Hall, Writer’s building or GPO, should you be happy or sad?  At present, there is one such structure behind the Metropolitan building at Esplanade ruining its total view. 

Metropolitan Building with a clear view
Metropolitan Building, a heritage structure  with a clear view

 

Metropolitan Building with a highriser looming behind it
Metropolitan Building with a high-rise looming behind it. Look it from any side in the front, the view will never be the same. Is this obstruction? Will the KMC allow such a highrise looming behind Victoria Memorial or Writer’s Building ?

Talking about constructions in the precinct of a heritage building, let us look into the curious case of Tripura House which is a Grade I heritage building. To quote the Telegraph dated 07.04.2018 – “The heritage conservation committee of the municipal corporation had refused permission to build a highrise within the Tripura House estate by citing the possibility of damage to the old building.” 

However, ultimately the construction of the highrise was sanctioned by WBHC itself! The heritage committee of KMC expressed surprise over it. The WBHC chairman mentioned that the highrise was constructed at a mandatory distance and the expansion was done vertically, hence the approval was given at the appeal of the developer.

This incident gives the idea that WBHC has the authority to overrule a KMC decision. One can wonder what happened when over 100 properties were delisted over the years. If WBHC does not like these delisting, why didn’t they stop it at that time?

To sum it up in one line, the laws relating to heritage gradation, and their sanctioning authority needs to be more transparent and comprehensible to the public in general. Also, the list of KMC protected building needs to increase if the Government of West Bengal expects to have any chance of procuring the heritage tag to the city.

 Let us now come to the question of conservation and protection of the mansions. If a building has been declared a Grade I or Grade II heritage building, then I wonder why they are decaying over the years with almost nothing being done to save them from collapsing down into rubble. I would like to mention three mansions here:-

  1.  Basu Bati at BaghBazar Street (Grade I Building)
  2.  Raja Subodh Mallick’s house near Subodh Mallick square (Grade I Building)
  3. A house connected with eminent personalities like Upendra Kishore Raychaudhuri, Ramkumar Vidyaratna at Bidhan Sarani (Grade IIB Building)

 

Basu Bati ,an architecture marvel waiting to collapse
Basu Bati – an architecture marvel waiting to collapse

Basu Bati is at present the property of the Ambuja Neotia group. When they acquired it from the Basu family, there was a plan to convert it into a heritage hotel. The plan did not work out and Basu Bati has turned into more or less a haunted house, used as a shooting location for various Bengali movies. It is a pity because this gigantic mansion built by engineer Nilmani Mitra stands apart from other structures, which mostly posses European influence. This is an indigenous one, built on traditional Hindu and Muslim style. It may be worth mentioning here that one of the main reasons Ahmadabad got the heritage tag is because of the presence of numerous structures showcasing the cultural fusion of Hindu and Muslim elements. Even if we ignore the fact the house has a connection to the Indian Freedom Movement as Nawab Wazid Ali Shah made his last public performance here and that several stalwarts visited this house; the mere architecture is worth saving. The Grade I tag on this building saves it from getting modified or demolished, but it does not protect it from decaying.

 

Raja Subodh Mallick's House - A piece of Bengal's freedom movement waiting to bite the dust. Photo courtesy : Aritra Biswas
Raja Subodh Mallick’s House – A house closely related to Bengal’s freedom movement waiting to bite the dust. Photo courtesy: Aritra Biswas

Similar is the case with Raja Subodh Mallick’s house. The house was declared Heritage in 1998. Since then the house is dying a sure and slow death. There have been numerous articles on the decaying condition of this property where Aurobindo Ghosh stayed for a considerable period and is significant for its connection to India’s freedom movement. The house is at present property of Kolkata University but several lawsuits are ongoing. It is ludicrous to see that the house has been engulfed by the growth of trees despite being declared a heritage. Some members of the Mishra family stay inside this house. The pavement in front of this house is home to many families living on the street.

The house at 13A Bidhan Sarani has almost collapsed down. Actually, the address where Upendra Kishore Ray Raychaudhuri stayed with his family and where Sukumar Ray (Father of Satyajit Ray) was born was 13 Cornwallis Street (Now Bidhan Sarani). However, now we see the premises divided into two. One is 13B, which houses a commercial complex and the portion of 13A is the ruined and crumbling portion which has been declared as Heritage.

The question is what long term purpose is served by declaring these building has heritage when nothing is done to preserve them? I mean, if by declaring heritage KMC has stopped the demolition, why nothing is being done to save it.

One day, the entire building may collapse down and then nothing can be done about it. Then after the remains are removed, there will be a modern multistoried standing on it.

As per KMC Guidelines –

“Conservation (of Heritage Building) may be defined as the process involved in the preservation of a building, precinct or artifact, in order to retain its architectural, historical, environmental or cultural significance. This term includes maintenance and according to necessity, may require preservation, restoration or reconstruction and may commonly be a combination of more than one of the above.”

Also, it says “Preservation (of Heritage Building) may be defined as the maintenance necessary in order to maintain the building precinct or artifact in its present state to prevent and retard further deterioration.”

 

In this context, it may be mentioned that WBHC Chairman said: “If aggrieved owners of heritage buildings approach us, we will look into it.” So if the present owner does not appeal to conserve and preserve a heritage building, the KMC or the Heritage Commission can do nothing about it on their own? If there is a law preventing the authorities to do so, it needs to be amended immediately.

Thus the second step towards making Calcutta into a heritage city is to change the clause of gradation of a heritage building into something more meaningful. Providing a house a Grade is not enough. KMC or WBHC must have some mandatory conservation and preservation activities done to these structures.

It may not be possible to immediately enact upon the clauses of gradation of the heritage building in Kolkata. Owners of heritage building have grievances on the fact that no financial help is provided to maintain a heritage building or even conduct any commercial work in the premises. In that case, many owners who are not well off may have a tendency to have their buildings delisted so that they can sell off the mansions which result in their demolition. A number of North Kolkata traditional houses have been demolished and have given way to high-rises in the last few years. This number is increasing day by day.

In this situation, one solution is the introduction of transfer of development right (TDR) to the owners of these mansions which was also suggested by WBHC member Partha Ranjan Das last year.

Transfer of Development Rights is actually a zoning technique. Zoning is the process of dividing the land in a municipality into various zones in which certain land uses are permitted or prohibited. TDR helps in conserving land by redirecting development that otherwise occurs in the land in question. This land may be having a heritage building standing on it. This is known as “The sending area”. The development will be redirected to another area suitable for such development known as the receiving area. The owners can be compensated for redirecting their development rights.

The heritage buildings thus acquired can be utilized by adaptive reuse. Adaptive reuse means using a building for a purpose other than which it was originally intended for. The developers who wish to reconstruct a building instead of completely demolishing it, have to ensure that the rejuvenated structure will be useful for the masses for its new purpose and will be priced in a competitive manner. It needs to mention here that not every age-old building can be used for adaptive reuse. The recently renovated Metro cinema hall into a multi-use commercial space with retail outlets and multiplex after it was auctioned by KMC Heritage committee keeping the original logo intact or transforming an age-old North Kolkata house into a Heritage homestay named Calcutta Bungalow by Calcutta Walks.

Metro Cinema in its last stage. Photo courtesy : Wikimedia Commons, Photographer : Biswarup Ganguly
Metro Cinema in its last stage. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons, Photographer: Biswarup Ganguly

 

The Metro multiplex keeping the original facade intact
The Metro Central – an example of adaptive reuse keeping the original facade intact

Unfortunately, adaptive reuse is not an option which the middle-class Kolkata residents are comfortable with.  Other than declared heritage buildings, there are several Art Deco mansions and traditional houses at Kolkata where people actually live in. These houses are rapidly getting demolished by ‘hammer-happy’ real estate establishments, as the owners are either not able to maintain it financially or are too feeble or old and prefer to shift to a modern residential complex having all amenities. The introduction of TDR can stop these demolitions to a great extent. Otherwise, soon Kolkata may be devoid of such elegant mansions and all our period films will be done in a studio set instead of real locations.

Thus the transfer of development right and Adaptive reuse can be very useful in protecting heritage and age-old mansions of Kolkata

Start with smaller things

The rules of the heritage committee of KMC can take some time to change. Meanwhile, something can be done to show positive intent. There are several small monuments in Kolkata which are historical but neglected. For example two Memorials of Prince of Wales at Esplanade crossing and at Fairley place or even the Panoity fountain at Curzon Park. These two Memorials need serious repairs and renovation.  Interestingly the memorial at Prince of Wales has a Grade I stamp and the one at Esplanade is not even recognized as a Heritage monument as per 2009 Graded heritage building list. That, of course, has no difference in treatment of these memorials by the KMC. The one at Esplanade lies in a damaged state and the one at Fairley place is dirty and surrounded by vendors. Panoity fountain is Grade I monument too which is lying in a fragile state inside a neglected Curzon Park, now renamed as Bhasa Udyan. Surely these can be repaired with much lesser cost than repairing a house like Basu Bati or house of Subodh Mallick. These do not have ownership issues too.

 

Panioty Fountain almost hidden from view at Curzon Park
Panioty Fountain is almost hidden from view at Curzon Park without any maintenance. Does a Grade I heritage monument deserve this. ?

 

The damaged Prince of Wales memorial at Esplanade is not even declared as a heritage monument
The damaged Prince of Wales memorial at Esplanade is not even declared as a heritage monument as per 2009 Graded heritage building list.

Active involvement of residents of the city

To develop Kolkata into a heritage city, active participation is needed from its residents. The Government of West Bengal, KMC and Heritage commission cannot do everything on their own.

In Varanasi, business tycoon Sajjan Jindal adopted the Harishchandra ghat and Rs 3.5 crore annually was to be spent on revamping and cleaning the ghat. In Kolkata, we need many such businessman and tycoons to come forward and adopt a heritage structure. There are only a few such examples in the city like the Restoring of the Park Mansion by Apeejay Surrendra Group, Mackinnon Mackenzie Building which was brought back to life from dead by converting it into Diamond Heritage keeping the front façade intact by Diamond Group and finally the palatial house of Sir Rajendranath Mukherjee at Ho Chi Min Sarani which has been restored and converted into RNM Galleria 1910 by Wellside group. This number is very less compared to the need of the hour.

It is important for the residents of the city to spread heritage awareness and raise voice and concerns regarding the demolition of heritage structures. There have not many organized protests in this regard except for one solitary occasion of writer Amit Chaudhuri, who, along with several eminent citizens of the city organized a protest march to Kolkata Municipal Corporation to submit a letter which urged for a stop to random delisting of the heritage building and other issues. However, the participants were not allowed to meet the Mayor and only the letter was accepted. Amit Chaudhuri raised a voice in some other similar situations too.

There are some social media groups who once a while raises voices on the demolition of heritage mansions. Such one or two protests will not help the cause of heritage in the city. A well-organized platform involving architects, heritage conservationist and heritage enthusiast needs to come together to save the city instead of protesting solo and in small groups. To start with, systematic documentation of the mansions needs to be made with their street address and photographs. That can be done by anybody or a group of people. Some individual attempts have been made on this but in an amateurish manner.

Time is passing by. As I write this blog, maybe another family has decided to part with their ancestral home and move on to a pigeon hole high riser apartment for more comfort and security. Maybe another building has been delisted and yet another house with lots of memories and open spaces have crumbled down. I remember once my old friend visited my home at North Kolkata with his 5-year-old son. His son was amazed to see my small courtyard as he could see the sky from there. The little one has been living in high-rise from his birth and his surprise was justified.

Until something is done urgently by the Governing bodies of the city and its residents, Kolkata will turn into a modern urban jungle instead of a heritage city and the beautiful homes and mansions will be no more than a fairytale of yesterday. Let us hope the present Government of West Bengal which stresses on beautification of the city does something positive about this. The recent revoking of a previous KMC demolition order of the heritage Roxy Cinema Hall by the present KMC Mayor gives a faint glimmer of hope.

Reference :

  1. Historic City of Ahmadabad, UNESCO Website. Online Link
  2. Criteria of Selection, UNESCO Website. Online Link
  3. Heritage Buildings of Kolkata, KMC Website. Online Link
  4. Niyogi, Subhro – ‘Panel slams civic body for delisting heritage houses.’ – Times Of India, 28th November 2018. Online Link
  5. Telegraph Editorial Board – “A Quiet Erasure of History” – The Telegraph, 8th December 2018. Online Link
  6. Chandrima S Bhattacharya and Deepankar Ganguly – Mayor plots to rob Roxy of demolition shield. The Telegraph, 29th March 2016. Online Link.
  7. Chandrima S. Bhattacharya  – March to save architectural heritage, The Telegraph, 19th April 2018. Online Link
  8. Sambit Saha & Subhajoy Roy –  Highrise plot carved out of heritage Ballygunge estate, 7th April 2018 Online Link
  9. Saikat Ray, Subhro Niyogi – KMC revokes Roxy demolition order, decides to restore heritage structure, Times of India, 13th January 2019. Online Link
  10. Rohan Dua – Sajjan Jindal 1st businessman to ‘adopt’ ghat in Kashi, 23rd September 2017. Online Link
  11. Sharmi Adhikary – Bengal’s Grande Dame, 1st July 2018 Online Link
  12. Chandni Doulataramani – Heritage Stay | Cheating Time in a Calcutta Bungalow, 17th November 2018. Online Link

 

 

 

9 comments

    • Good to know you liked it. I am not a Heritage conversation expert. I wrote on the basis of Newspaper Reports and my own experiences. Whatever queries I raised through this blog is from a layman bystander point of view. If someone with academic knowledge on this subject would answer these queries, that would be great.

  1. Dear Sir,
    I readily agree with your enlightened view on Calcutta’s HERITAGE status. I thank you sincerely for articulating the issues so forcefully with details that many of us think absolutely right and most significant for keeping our heritage unspoiled. Warm wishes and regards,
    Asok Mukhopadhyay

  2. Interesting read. The whole concept of heritage is distorted in our country. A common man has scant regard for heritage. Residents are bringing down old heritage Havelis and erecting new commercial complexes here in Jaipur. I have written about that on my blog too. WE need to learn a lot from Europe where heritage is generating money from tourists. Even in Church, tourists need to pay for the visit.

    Jaipur was also considered for heritage city but the results are yet to be declared.

  3. Very timely written, We need to fire on all guns to make built heritage “fashionable and sexy”.
    One good way of this is promoting city based rickshaw, cycle or plain walking tours.
    Another way is instilling pride in what we already have so that people actually feel proud to be owner of a heritage structure — aka “surgical strike”.
    “Adaptive reuse” is a much abused word, but not everybody may be interested in running a boutique hotel or a restaurant. Owners of heritage buildings should be exempt from paying municipal taxes, water taxes, mutation fees, stamp duty as well as estate or succession fees (provided they adhere to norms of maintenance and restoration of those structures,as has to be published by ASI or State Heritage Commission). Believe me, the loss to exchequer will not be great as I do not envisage more than 20 heritage structures, on a average, in any ward. More so ever, some of the largest and most expensive heritage structures are already owned by the government (be it state or center) or quasi government bodies like municipalities, banks, public sector undertakings, educational institutions etc..
    Additionally they should given the liberty of evicting tenants / lessee etc. with a 6 months notice and take in a new tenant who is willing to pay much more. And there should a rent escalation clause that would kick in every financial year and the rate should not be less than the urban consumer price index.
    There has to be inter-operability of structures in the Heritage lists, published by various agencies. A structure that is the Heritage List of Archaeological Survey of India or UNESCO World Heritage List should not need to be separately listed by the State Heritage Commission — it would automatically become a part of the same. Similarly, anything listed by any of the above said agencies should automatically be a part of the list by the Corporation. This way each list is built as a wrapper on the previous one, and no ambiguity exists on the status of any “heritage structure”.
    The process to delist or degrade a heritage structure should involve a public notice in at least 2 widely circulated print media (one in English and another in the regional language) for that state. A cool off period of at least 6 months is required after the notice is posted. There should be provisions for at least 3 public hearings, where members of the general public should be able to voice their opinion. The committee that decides on this, should have a retired judge, members of ASI as well as State Archaeological department, civil society representatives, representatives of department of archaeology of local universities and eminent historians.
    The website of the State Heritage Commission as well as Kolkata Municipal Corporation, should clearly list all structures that are under Heritage List or those which are being considered for degrading / de-listing.
    The process to enlist a structure for Heritage List should similarly be made workflow based, and online. Any members of the general public should be able to raise a request in the website. Maybe take a one time payment (say 1000 INR) to prevent any frivolous entries.
    Last but not the least, we see a lot of arm chair activism on Heritage preservation in form on articles on social media. While documentation is important, it is crucial that we act immediately. There has to be demonstrated by small acts on successful restoration. Few examples which does not need much money, but are low hanging fruits. Examples are :
    Prince of Wales visit memorial at the crossing of Fairlie Place and Strand Road
    Prince of Wales visit memorial on Lenin Sarani in front of Tipu Sultan mosque
    Panioty Fountain
    McDonnell Monument, inside West Bengal Legislative Assembly complex, opposite High Court of Kolkata.
    I am reasonably sure that these 4 together should not take less than 1 million INR. If Kanhayia Kumar of CPI in Begusarai or Atishi of AAP in East Delhi can raise 7 MM INR in less than 7 days via crowd-sourcing over social media, why cannot heritage enthusiasts raise 10% of that in 10 times the day.
    Bottom line, we need to be the chowdikars for our built heritage structures.

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