No funds to preserve Mumbai's heritage GPO building

The city’s landmark General Post Office (GPO) in SoBo is celebrating its centenary this year, and it shows. The disfigured walls of the heritage structure are shedding giant flakes of plaster, the ceiling has deep fissures, stones come loose and fall off the domes, drainpipes drip over employees’ heads, and broken windowpanes rattle and crumble every time they are closed, betraying total neglect of this British-era heritage structure.

Mumbai's heritage structure GPO building
Dilapidated: A staff of 1,100 works at the GPO between 6 am and 10 pm. Other than that, the building gets approximately 40,000 visitors daily. Officials said they have thrown a safety net to keep the peeling plaster from falling on people’s heads from the building’s central dome. Pic/Bipin Kokate

If walls could talk, this edifice would be screaming for a massive restoration, and urgently, running into crores. But the funds are not forthcoming from the Centre’s coffers.

On April 12, 2013, P Gopinath, secretary (posts) and chairman of the Postal Services Board which falls under the purview of the central government, released commemorative postage stamps to mark the centenary celebration of the GPO building. But the board took no notice of the rickety building. 

In 2009, noted architect Abha Narain Lambah and her team had carried out an extensive study of the building and made recommendations to restore it.

Following her observations, senior postal officials in Mumbai told MiD DAY that they had brought the issue to the notice of the Member Planning Secretary, New Delhi, and asked for a Rs 10 crore provision under the 12th five-year plan towards restoration work. The request was not even acknowledged by the central office in Delhi. A reminder was dispatched in July 2012. It did not receive a response either. 

Mumbai's heritage structure GPO building

“We received a sum of Rs 5 lakh during the fiscal 2011-12 and Rs 2.45 lakh for 2012-13 for building repairs. The GPO building is in a compound admeasuring 1,20,000 sq ft with an end-to-end length of 523 sq ft. How can the entire area be restored or even repaired with this paltry sum?” asked another official.

“In order to preserve this heritage, the entire building has to be restored with the help of conservation architects. Stones from smaller domes have started falling off at places. Restoration is the only solution to the problem,” said A N Patil, assistant director of the building section.

All in a day’s work
A staff of 1,100 works at the GPO between 6 am and 10 pm. Other than that, the building gets approximately 40,000 visitors daily.

Officials said they have thrown a safety net to keep the peeling plaster from falling on people’s heads from the building’s central dome.

Mumbai's heritage structure GPO building

The dereliction on the first floor is worse. The administrative and store staff said pipes carrying waste water from the common toilet on the floor above leak, close to their workstation. They have positioned their dustbins to catch the dribbling drains.

“We have to work here, at a place that stinks due to drainage water. The plaster from the ceiling and columns has peeled off. A disaster can happen here anytime. A contract staff was injured a few months ago when a portion of the plaster fell on her. Luckily she did not sustain any serious injuries,” said an official from the administration department.

Mumbai's heritage structure GPO building

“We are government employees and not authorised to raise our concerns. We have to continue working in this condition or we will be shunted out,” said another staffer.

Staff members have already got plastic sheets to save themselves in monsoon, when ample water seeps in through leaky roofs and broken windows, soaking workstations.

Officials speak
Colonel K C Mishra, chief postmaster general, Maharashtra, said, “I am aware of the issue and am in discussion with my counterparts and superiors in Delhi. They have assured of doing the needful upon receiving funds from the government.”

Mumbai GPO director Shobha Madhale said, “We have requested higher authorities for allotment of funds for renovation and restoration, as recommended by the appointed architects, in the interests of the public and the officials.”

When contacted, Tilak De, deputy director general (Estate and Materials Management), Dak Bhawan, New Delhi, said, “I cannot give any statement unless authorised by my superiors.” His superior Sunita Trivedi, Member Planning, Postal Service Board, said, “We have not got approval for funds from the Planning Commission. We have two to three heritage buildings in and outside Maharashtra and are awaiting the sanction.” While architect Lambah is out of the country, state minister for communication Milind Deora is away on an official visit to the North East. They could not be reached for comment.

Condition of slabs
The slabs have a composite structure of load bearing walls and reinforced concrete slabs. The slab, beams and columns are in a vulnerable condition in the entire building. Cracks are visible in the beams and slabs.

Mumbai's heritage structure GPO building
Pics/ Bipin Kokate

Water seepage
Water seepage is one of the most common issues and plenty of it can be seen in the building, thus deteriorating the slab and leading to the corrosion of steel members and eventually of spalling (chipping) concrete and loss of strength in the structural system of the building.

Mumbai's heritage structure GPO building

Cracks are visible along the joints of the masonry. It is either due to loss of mortar or due to movement and settlement, causing severe cracks not only though the joints but also through the stone masonry. At a lot of places, the joints in the masonry have also opened up due to shift in the loading pattern.

Mumbai's heritage structure GPO building

Smaller domes
There are smaller domes in the four corners of the building, accentuating the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture the structure boasts of. The concrete slabs under the smaller domes show signs of deterioration through exposed masonry and water marks on the beams and slabs.

Mumbai's heritage structure GPO building

The coping above the parapet walls along the terrace are also made in stone in big pieces and joined. Some of the coping details have gone missing and the others have broken and disfigured from their original shape and design.

Chajjas on the second floor on all the façades have major cracks visible on the underside. The reinforcement bars are corroded and have spalled and delaminated, making the reinforcement visible.

Mumbai's heritage structure GPO building

Did you know?
*The GPO Mumbai building is the biggest postal house in South Asia
*It took nine years to complete its construction. The work commenced on September 1, 1904 and finished on March 13, 1913
*Back in the day, its cost of construction was Rs 18,09,000
*It is designed by British architect John Begg, a consultant to the British government
*It is modelled on the Gol Gumbaz in Bijapur, Karnataka
*The building has an area of 1,20,000 sq ft
*Its chief feature is an ethereal central hall which rises up to the great dome 

March 13, 1913 - The day the construction of the GPO was completed

Rs 10 cr - The amount requested by the GPO for its restoration and repairs

Rs 7.5 lakh - Amount received for repairs from 2011 to 2013

1,100 - No of staffers at the GPO 

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