'Heritage tag coming in the way of renovation'

CR officials say UNESCO label, with its restrictions on renovation, is impeding CST's turn-around into a state-of-the-art station and are ready to renounce it

The bustling Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus may be one of the 936 structures in the world and 28 in India that feature on the UNESCO list of world-class heritage sites.

But for the railway authorities, the global heritage tag is nothing but an adornment getting in the way of the Rs-1,800 crore facelift proposed to bring it abreast of world-class stations.

Busy heritage: Around 30 lakh commuters pass through this 133-year-
old building every day.

After the Railway Ministry identified CST, used by 30 lakh commuters daily, to become one of the first stations to undergo a makeover into a world-class station a few years ago, CR officials say its heritage status has for long been a hurdle in realising the titanic project and improving its precincts with a hub of high-rises and facilities.

Classified a world heritage site in July 2004, CST was divided into two buffer zones that restrict construction and renovation around it. But CR officials are ready to relinquish the honour if the criteria for preserving the site as a world heritage aren't diluted to accommodate the multitude of modifications they have in mind.

"We have demanded an alteration in the buffer zone, and if need be, we wouldn't mind foregoing the world heritage tag. The only difference would be that it wouldn't be part of the brochures doled out by tourism agencies. Our motto is to develop the surroundings of this site which are filled with muck and debris," said a senior CR official. Historians and activists, however, reckon the paltry worth railway officials attach to the iconic status as pitiable.

"It is a travesty. Getting a UNESCO nomination involves hard work. It is a matter of pride for the country and it would indeed be sad to relinquish this status," said Abha Narain Lambha, conservation architect and historic buildings consultant.

Blueprint in place
Presently, there is a rundown yard near Wadi Bunder; rail tracks are infested with weed and shrubs, platforms for long-distance trains are going to the seed and cargo and goods are cluttered shoddily at the parcel depot.
As per the plan, these unkempt spots will be preened up and the Anglo-Indian stone structure will be enhanced with additional infrastructure (see box). "We are ready with the basic master plan necessary to execute this massive project and have submitted it to the Railway Board," said Subodh Jain, general manager, CR. Sources said that only last week, Board members and ministry officials were to go through the proposal but it was deferred.

Rs 1,800 cr revamp 
As per the renovation plan, peripheries under Buffer Zone I would be made into a pedestrian zone after shifting the taxi stand and other amenities and offices to the basement. It also includes adding more platforms. While under Buffer Zone II, as per UNESCO guidelines, any high-rise development that obstructs the view of the site from a distance should be avoided.

The proposed master plan envisages a multi-storey luxury hotel, eight commercial buildings and another 20-storey commercial complex replacing the current set-up on the CST premises. An underground subway at the main entrance next to the new station building is also part of the blueprint, sources said.

The railways are looking at executing the plan through public-private participation -- without relying too much on viability gap fund -- or by creating a separate fund in case the private developer falls short of money. In lieu of this, the developer could commercially utilise vacant railway land on the P D'Mello road.

Year in which UNESCO recognised CST as world heritage site

Year the construction was started. It took 10 years to build

Did you know?
The terminus was designed by a British architect Frederick William Stevens

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