The Central Railway’s ambition to transform the CST world heritage building into a world-class station has been clipped, thanks to its own shortsightedness.
A decade after declaring buffer zones around the CST complex where limited development could take place, the railways in recent years proposed a skyscraper, three-star hotel, lodging facilities for passengers, a 20-storey shopping and commercial complex and eight buildings at the Wadi Bunder side of CST, on P D’Mello Road.
Now, according to a heritage impact assessment report, the high-flying plans have to be reined in. “The height of the buildings proposed to be developed around the CST heritage area should be restricted at 24 metres, as prescribed by the UNESCO,” conservation architect Abha Narain Lambah, who made the study, told MiD DAY. The study comes after the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) -- advisory body to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee -- asked the railways to do the assessment.
In other words, no structure can overshadow the dome of CST building. This effectively curtails all plans involving a skyscraper or commercial centre, and allows no more than about seven storeys for any building that will come up.
Sources in the railways claim that this saps the commercial viability of the multi-crore public-private partnership (PPP) project to give CST a facelift. “As per the report, we would meet the operational guidelines only if the height is restricted at 24 metres. The downside is that we would find it difficult to get private companies to carry out this work,” said a senior CR official.
A narrow vision
Nearly 10 years ago when the railways were in the process of obtaining ‘world heritage’ status for the terminus, they had mentioned three buffer zones surrounding the building, where any new development would be restricted. “We had then given it in writing to UNESCO that buffer zones would be created. Now that we want to rationalise the zones, it is proving to be embarrassing as we’d be contradicting our own details submitted earlier,” lamented a railway official.
The boundaries hemming in the CST structure are starkly uneven. On the west side, it extends till Metro cinema, on its south till the bus station, and on the east it goes right up to Wadi Bunder, which is more than a kilometre away. “Wadi Bunder doesn’t even fall in A ward. We only wanted to rationalise the boundaries,” rued a CR official.
Now, the authorities are likely to slip the redefining and develop the area within the height limit. CR officials will now study the report and submit it to the Railway Board. After the Board’s approval, they will give it to the French consultant who will prepare a plan for the world-class station.
Unseen buffer block
In 2010, the railways proposed that the periphery under buffer zone I would be refashioned into a pedestrian zone, after clearing the taxi stand and shifting some amenities to the basement. Transferring of several offices and adding more platforms is also part of the proposal. In buffer zone II, as per the UNESCO guidelines, authorities should avoid any high-rise development that could obstruct the view of the heritage site from a distance. In buffer zone III, they had proposed skyscrapers and hotels, contradicting their own submission about a decade ago for restricted redevelopment.