Even on World Heritage Day yesterday, Mumbai did not desist from defacing its World Heritage site Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, a hallmark of the Victorian-Gothic elegance that crowns the city’s aesthetic legacy. Far from preserving the railway station - which also serves as the headquarters of the Central Railway - authorities had deemed it fit to let banners talking about the upcoming railway union elections violate its glory.
The polls are due on April 25-27 and unions feel their means of promotion are justified, embedded as they are in the democratic electoral principle. The fact that the building has been named a World Heritage site by the UNESCO failed to galvanise the authorities into conserving or even cleaning up this marvel, at least for the occasion.
Sore for the sight
For years together, the heritage structure has been used by one and all as a tack board to prop up posters and banners advertising umpteen events and persons. In the past, nails have been drilled into the extended portions of the building both on the outside as well as inside towards the concourse.
At the moment, it’s the union election preparations blighting its beauty. A majority of the thousands of railway personnel in Mumbai are part of railway unions, namely Central Railway Mazdoor Sangh (CRMS) and National Railway Mazdoor Union (NRMU), which lead several others smaller ones.
Irrespective of their stature, these unions have put up giant hoardings at the entrance to the British-era station. Numerous banners have been tied to the top with ropes. Countless stickers have been pasted on pillars and walls. As one crosses the concourse to enter the premises, huge placards and bills greet the eye.
Proceeding further into the building, there is more of this gauche shabbiness. Scores of small leaflets can be seen hanging on a thin rope in one of the alleys that lead to the rear. The parts of walls that have been left bare by mistake sport blotches of adhesive from previous posters.
Railway officials said this is the norm during every elections. The visually appealing CST turns into a hodgepodge of flyers and banners. “We cannot stop them from putting these posters. It is one of their means of publicity before contesting elections. But it does spoil the look of the station and its premises,” said a railway official on condition of anonymity.
Commuters and their associations despise that a heritage should be subject to this mutilation. “At a time when political and other banners are being removed from roads and footpaths to rid the city of eyesores, railway unions should also have kept from putting them up,” said Kailash Verma, member of passengers organisation Mumbai Rail Pravasi Sangh.
‘It’s a democracy’
When MiD DAY spoke with railway workers over the defacement, for once all the unions seemed united over an issue. “Railway employees work at stations and this is where we can connect with them. That’s why these posters have been installed. We have not touched the heritage building and its premises, and everything will be removed after the elections are over,” said Venu Nair, general secretary (Mumbai division), NRMU.
Union members claim this is the democratic way to fight elections. “It is election time. Such promotional measures are taken. We have not pasted any poster in the heritage building,” said S Siddique, divisional secretary, CRMS.