Did BMC bend heritage rules for SoBo building?
It’s the hallmark of a cosmopolitan city to make room for the new, while treasuring the old, and Mumbai has laws that ensure this. Buildings falling within a 100-metre radius of a heritage structure known as precinct do not easily get sanction for redevelopment, despite the municipal commissioner having powers to approve the same.
View of Sitaram Building, near Crawford Market. Pic/Shadab Khan
These powers are exercised only on rare occasions, for instance, when the buildings are very old and not in restorable condition. But the permission of Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee (MHCC) is mandatory.
Sitaram Building at Palton Road, which forms the precinct of Crawford Market and Sir JJ School of Art, Grade I and Grade II heritage structures respectively that are mentioned in BMC documents, secured authorisation for redevelopment in 2008 and the process is near completion.
The heritage structures were not considered while permission was being granted, and the distance of other buildings from Sitaram Building was taken into account and not the radius from Crawford Market. However, the redeveloped structures do not adhere to the skyline, and currently stand at 34 metres, while the maximum allowed altitude for other precincts is about 24 metres.
Interestingly, the then municipal commissioner had approved the proposal, not insisting on MHCC’s recommendation, which is essential for every redevelopment in a precinct. A resident of that compound, Mohammed Ishtaque, who filed an RTI plea on the issue, said, “There are a lot of ambiguities in the whole endorsement of this project, as BMC has been contradicting itself and has not insisted on consent from MHCC.
While giving permission, BMC has regarded another tall structure in the vicinity as base. So, rather than taking action against a seemingly illegal structure, it has approved another one. Documents reveal that the boundaries have also been tweaked, and Sitaram Building has not been considered as a part of the precinct, when previous letters of the civic body (copies available with MiD DAY) say otherwise.”
Not saying much
When contacted, MHCC chairman V Ranganathan said, “I will have to check the records of the boundaries and find out whether or not this building falls in the precinct, and if it does, how was it given permission.” Despite repeated attempts to get in touch with her, Municipal Architect Lalita Gupta remained unavailable for comments.