Is ‘heritage' missing from the dictionary?

R. Krishna Kumar
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neglected: Mandi Market in Mysore needs more attention from the authorities. — Photo: M.A. SRIRAM
neglected: Mandi Market in Mysore needs more attention from the authorities. — Photo: M.A. SRIRAM

Is it all talk and no action on the heritage and conservation front in Mysore? Though the Government and the local authorities have “declared” R.K.Narayan's house at Yadavgiri in Mysore as a heritage structure, will they now notify the heritage regulations which is gathering dust and without which conservation efforts will be futile? What about the fate of nearly 230 other structures listed by stakeholders including the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), Department of Archaeology and Heritage, Mysore Grahakara Parishat (MGP), and Mysore Area Heritage Task Force.

Will the Government revive the Mysore Area Heritage Sub-Committee which has not met for three years and has become defunct? These are questions bothering heritage conservationists in the city which has witnessed many false starts on the restoration and conservation of important structures.

Only success story

There have been sporadic efforts in the past to take up restoration and conservation works by the government authorities in Mysore none of which have materialised so far. The only “success story” of restoration pertains to the Jayalakshmi Vilas Mansion at Manasagangotri which was funded by Infosys and the work was executed by a private conservation architect.

In 2007-2008, the authorities listed 15 buildings identified by the Mysore City Corporation (MCC) for conservation and it was announced that HUDCO would execute the project. Then came the announcement that funding would be through the JNNURM. It remained a non-starter.

A master plan for beautification and embellishment of the core heritage area around the palace made news. It is yet to take off. Finally the MCC itself came out with a plan to restore at least three markets — Devaraja, Vani Vilas and Mandi — constructed during the Maharaja's era. But none of these plans has materialised yet.

And now the public has been told that the Devaraja Market façade will be restored while the interiors will remain untouched. In the meantime, the MCC is equipping itself for the “long run” and is putting its staff through a workshop on urban heritage conservation with resource persons drawn from France and Indian Heritage Cities Network Foundation. The objective is to build the capacity of the MCC to plan, coordinate and execute programmes in the field of urban heritage conservation and regeneration. Whether the theoretical exercise culminates in practical application remains to be seen.

Though the city is strewn with over 200 heritage buildings and monuments, their conservation without budgetary support and notification of the heritage guidelines and regulations will be difficult as averred by town planners.

Even as the government dithers on notifying the regulations, some of the structures are withering away due to lack of action though there are no dearth of “action plans.”

The core heritage zone surrounding the palace includes the Lansdowne Building which is in a bad shape. Though some of the encroachments were removed recently by the district administration, there is no follow-up action to strengthen the structure.

Devaraja Market is over 125 years old and continues to draw tourists and locals alike and is an emblem of a bygone era. Constructed during the regime of the Wadiyars, it has over 725 shops but the vegetable, fruit and flower market dominates the area. There are talks and talks of its restoration.

The latest buzz is that experts from France and those attached to Unesco will give technical support and the MCC will restore the façade without touching the interiors so as to increase the life span of the building by another 100 years.

Mandi Market and Vani Vilas Market too were constructed during the rule of the Wadiyars and have served the city well during their heydays. But both the structures are in a dilapidated condition and the MCC has plans to restore them but there is little concrete action on the ground. The agrahara area adjoining the Vani Vilas Market and Ramanuja Road, which is reflective of traditional Mysore, has been neglected over the decades

Among the slew of heritage structures located around the palace are the public office buildings south of the palace which are well preserved as they are in use. But the gun house to the west of palace and which was constructed around 1910 requires intervention. The list also includes the Harsha Road stretch which is dominated by old hotels, offices and theatres and require intervention for conservation. Jaganmohan Palace, which houses an art gallery, is protected but in the absence of heritage guidelines, there was flagrant violation of norms and hotels taller than the Jaganmohan Palace came up around it. The office of the MCC is just a stone's throw away but it turned a blind eye to the violations.

Gandhi Square is in the core heritage zone adjoining the Silver Jubilee Clock Tower and the Town Hall and has old buildings and shops that have defined the skyline of Mysore for decades. The place has witnessed overgrowth in the absence of regulation.

Ashoka Road had a few old buildings some of which have been demolished to pave way for new ones or the old buildings have been modified with glass and steel and they appear incongruous in many ways.

R. Krishna Kumar

‘Action plans' for preserving Mysore's heritage buildings are full of plans and not much of action