CST won't become a world-class station any time soon

Ten years after the railway ministry came up with a plan to make the 128-year-old Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus a world-class station and develop the surrounding areas in a Rs 1,800-crore project, the project has been put on hold until the authorities review the proposal again

Despite nearly ten years having passed since the Indian Railways decided to transform the iconic Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) station into a world-class station, the authorities never put the plan into action, and have now decided to put it on hold instead.

The 128-year-old Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) has been on the World Heritage list since 2004. Pic/Atul Kamble
The 128-year-old Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) has been on the World Heritage list since 2004. Pic/Atul Kamble

Sources said it was unlikely that the project would begin any time soon, since the Railway Board intends to conduct a fresh study of the proposal before it can go ahead. The railways had, in fact, roped in French consultants Arep, nearly four years ago to study the plans to revamp the 128-year-old British-era station.

Prepared at a cost of Rs 11 crore, Arep’s report outlined the possible impact of the Rs 1,800-crore project on the UNESCO heritage building and also made recommendations on how to minimise this impact. However, railway officials said the authorities were not satisfied with this report and wanted to commission another one.

Grand plans
The plans not only included a revamp of services and facilities at the terminus, but also included the development of a commercial hub in neighbouring areas or buffer zones extending to Wadi Bunder and P D'Mello Road in the east, Metro Cinema in the west and the CST bus depot in the south.

In this area, the railways have vacant chunks of land amassing to 32.6 hectares, including heritage buildings, yard and platforms. It is this vacant land that is proposed to be utilised for the project.

The land will be divided into three buffer zones — the innermost zone 1 will be refashioned into a pedestrian zone; buffer zone 2 will not have any high-rise building so as to not obstruct the view of CST from a distance, and zone 3 will have skyscrapers with hotels, offices, shopping complexes, etc.

As per the proposal, there will also be an underground subway that will come up on the east side of the station, leading to the GPO and then connecting to the proposed underground Metro corridor passing through DN Road on the west. Commuters will be able to alight at CST and take an elevator going 20 feet underground to connect with the Metro station and vice versa.

Protecting CST
According to Lisa Ackerman, executive vice-president of the World Monuments Fund, New York, there are many good examples around the world of historic train stations being adapted effectively for modern use, while retaining the valuable historic character of the architecture and original details. “In New York City, the preservation movement was in many ways galvanized by the demolition of Pennsylvania Station - a loss still discussed 50 years later.

Fortunately, there are many other happier examples of stations being adapted for today’s needs, such as St Pancras in London,” she said, adding further, “Victoria Terminus or Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus has been inscribed on the World Heritage list since 2004 and is such an iconic structure that we must assume there will be great vigilance about safeguarding the structure and holding its renovation and modernisation to a high standard befitting its heritage.”

Heritage concerns
There was some concern that the project could end up compromising CST’s heritage, but the Arep report made several recommendations to ensure this did not happen. One such measure was to ensure that the height of new commercial buildings and other structures be restricted to 24 metres or 8 storeys, so they will not end up dwarfing the heritage structure.

A Central Railway official told mid-day that concern over heritage was not what was holding up the project. “Despite the fact that the report mentioned that the world class station plan wouldn’t affect the heritage value of CST in any way, higher authorities still didn’t approve of it,” the official added.

UNESCO speak
When information is received by us from third party sources about the deterioration of any World Heritage property or threat to its outstanding universal value, we seek a report from the government authorities concerned to verify the content of the information, in accordance with paragraph 174 of the Operational Guidelines for the implementation of the World Heritage Convention. - Kishore Rao, director, UNESCO World Heritage Centre, France

Inputs by Fiona Fernandez

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