Our heritage structures are fast disappearing,thanks to their turning into prime real estate

Two developments in recent months could somewhat bring cheer to those who value the heritage of our city, which in the past has had to see many of its old and historic structures vanish. First, is the resolve of the Russell Market traders to put the partially fire-damaged building back to shape. The other is the inclusion of Bangalore in the heritage city list.

Paradoxically, while the former did not have the backing of the civic authorities, the latter came from the State government itself, much to the surprise of many. Both have come at a time when heritage conservation in Bangalore needs a boost, though larger issues remain to be addressed yet.

Gone forever

Currently, concerns are being raised at the alacrity at which old private properties — evoking a once-gracious era — are being razed. On the other hand, most of the vintage public buildings may have escaped demolition, though many are in the best shape.

But, for the city's heritage, which has suffered enormously in two decades of speculative real estate boom — a phenomenon witnessed nationwide — can these developments trigger sensitivity and passion for the “old world” charm?

No proper law

The inclusion of Bangalore in the fresh list of 14 heritage cities (apart from the six existing cities) across the State may have set the ball rolling for the Department of Heritage to initiate conservation, but it will be an uphill task without proper legislation to back it.

“Unless there is legislation to protect the heritage properties, no amount of documentation and plan will work. Some relief in terms of tax discounts has to be extended to private owners that could help in conservation,” Sathya Prakash Varanashi, Convenor, Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), told The Hindu. Besides relief in property tax, the government should help boost the value of a heritage building instead of letting it depreciate, he said.

A stringent law could prevent a repeat of Malleswaram in other heritage areas. “With urban land becoming a commodity, land value increased in Malleswaram and throughout the 1990s, the area saw heritage buildings losing ground,” he said.

Heritage, he pointed out, is not a “tenderable” item. “Cultural or intangible heritage such as a flower market or residences of eminent personalities, iconic commercial centres cannot be quantified. The government needs to balance these while funding heritage conservation,” he said.

Challenges

Challenges for conservation in Bangalore will be many, acknowledges K.R. Ramakrishna, Commissioner for Archaeology, Museums and Heritage, while also conceding that a law to protect heritage is crucial in conservation. He said that he was getting copies of laws from Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal that have put in place legislative control on heritage buildings.

“We are very positive; a lot of things needs to be done. Preliminary survey work for documentation will be started shortly, and a sustainable heritage plan will be formed for Bangalore,” he said. Pointing out the impracticability of the entire Bangalore being declared as heritage zone for conservation, he said some pockets are being considered.

Adaptive reuse

Meanwhile, in the absence of a legislative provision, one way of looking at protection and conservation of heritage structure in the private realm could be to convert them into boutiques, hotels and home stays.

The Villa Pottipati hotel in the over a century-old bungalow in the heart of Malleswaram, the National Gallery of Modern Arts in the heritage Manikyavelu Mansion on Palace Road, the Hatworks Boulevard on Cunningham Road and Raintree on Bellary Road are some examples for such adaptive reuse.

“These commercial ventures could be encouraged so that they can help in conserving the structures. Ultimately, it is passion and interest that safeguard heritage,” said conservation architect Pankaj Modi.

He observed that a positive development in the recent times was that banks, post offices and other public sector enterprises are seeking expert advice to protect their structures in Bangalore.

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