Construction at Cubbon Park: Calls for a heritage policy grow louder

RMP 2031, which is yet to be approved, classifies Cubbon Park as a heritage precinct, but EC building not classified as a heritage building

November 02, 2019 11:32 pm | Updated 11:32 pm IST

The old office of the Election Commission in Cubbon Park which is expected to make way for a seven-storey annexe of the Karnataka High Court.

The old office of the Election Commission in Cubbon Park which is expected to make way for a seven-storey annexe of the Karnataka High Court.

Amidst calls for preservation of a prime lung space like Cubbon Park and ahead of protests organised by various organisations on Sunday, citizens and conservationists have pointed to the need for a heritage policy for Bengaluru. A clear policy policy, they say, would have resolved matters such as the present one dealing with the proposed annexe to the Karnataka High Court.

The old Election Commissioner’s Office will be razed to make way for a seven-storey building. Pankaj Modi, Technical Coordinator, Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), said heritage policies in Mumbai and Hyderabad do not apply only to buildings but also heritage precincts. “Similarly, Cubbon Park is a precinct, and its landscape and buildings lend character to the city. So, a policy would identify the pocket as a whole and its value to the city. When regulations come into play, there would be controlled development as there will be regulations in place. It becomes easy to see what is allowed and what is not, and if it is allowed, then whether it affects the value or character of the place. That is why there is an urgent need for a policy,” he said.

Draft RMP 2031

The draft Revised Master Plan (RMP) 2031, which is yet to be approved, has identified Cubbon Park as a “heritage precinct”, but Mr. Modi pointed out that the building in question is not classified as one. “However, the area has been, so it has its own regulations,” he said, adding that unlike an RMP, which would be revised at regular intervals, a heritage policy would be more permanent.

The RMP 2031 describes a heritage building as one that “possessing architectural, aesthetic, historic or cultural values, which is declared as a heritage building by the Planning Authority,” and a heritage precinct as “an area comprising a heritage building or buildings and precincts thereof or related places which is declared as such by the Planning Authority”. A heritage zone has been described as one that “requires special attention in terms of heritage conservation and regulated,” and 12 such zones have been demarcated.

To identify heritage zones and precincts, the RMP 2031 considered the historical relevance and chronology of the heritage area or heritage sites; urban character, typology and nature of activities of the larger heritage area and the buildings or open spaces within; architectural character of the heritage buildings. It has specified the Central Administrative Heritage Zone as a “traditional link between the Petta and Cantonment tied together by large green open space of Cubbon Park.”

Mr. Modi drew on the vision of the city’s planners for including large parks and green lungs, a characteristic not all cities enjoy. “”The public heritage buildings, such as the State Central Library and the museum, also are on a certain scale, at certain height and with certain kind of crowd coming in,” he added.

‘Not just knee-jerk reactions’

Priya Chetty Rajagopal from Heritage Beku, a citizen advocacy initiative that works towards preserving the city’s architectural and natural heritage, which is organising a meeting of various stakeholders in Cubbon Park on Sunday, said protests and such events are only “knee-jerk reactions” every time there is a threat to a structure.

“The construction of a seven-storey building will kill the park. A full-time heritage law with an independent body is what is needed now,” she said.

‘Concretisation of a park’

While one side of the argument is about preserving a heritage precinct such as Cubbon Park, regular users of the park are calling what they allege is the increasing concretisation of Cubbon Park as a reason for unrest.

S. Umesh, president, Cubbon Park Walkers’ Association, which is organising a protest on Sunday against the proposed building, said there was discrimination between Cubbon Park and Lalbagh when it came to administration.

“There are 14 properties around Cubbon Park, 11 of them government and three private. A new seven-floor building will attract 300 to 400 vehicles. Where is the parking? They will look at Cubbon Park. It will set a precedent for other people to come up with similar demands,” he said.

Drawing parallels between Lalbagh and Cubbon Park, he said the former is well kept with the park being off bounds for vehicles and construction, unlike Cubbon Park.

“Where is Cubbon Park left between the buildings and the vehicles? The horticulture department is keeping quiet,” he said.

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