135-year-old piece of Mumbai history to be demolished

Apr 03, 2014, 07:48 IST | Sujit Mahamulkar and Shashank Rao

After a six-month-long standoff with CR over the repair of the 135-year-old Hancock Bridge near Sandhurst Road, BMC officials are now struggling to think of ways to retain its heritage value

The 135-year-old Hancock Bridge near Sandhurst Road, one of the city’s oldest blackstone bridges from the British era, is all set to step into the annals of the city’s history, with the BMC deciding to rebuild the bridge, after a six-month-long standoff with the Central Railway (CR). 

Bridge of trouble? The stone bridge, situated between Sandhurst Road and Byculla railway stations, is around five metres above the tracks. Pic/Datta Kumbhar

The two bodies in charge of the reconstruction — BMC and CR — now have a challenging decision ahead of them, and have been brainstorming on ways to give the time-ravaged structure a dignified farewell. They claim that they are making every attempt to preserve the structure’s heritage value. And yet, what they said to mid-day seems to indicate that the authorities are in a quandary over whether to preserve the structure in its entirety, or demolish it and preserve only parts of it for posterity.

After standing the test of time for over a century-and-a-quarter, the 45-m stretch started showing signs of old age last year, prompting the CR to ask the Mumbai Traffic Police and the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) to disallow movement of heavy vehicles over the bridge, which connects Byculla with Mazgaon. Following this, the BMC and CR were at loggerheads over who would foot the bill for the repair work. The decision to reconstruct the bridge was taken a few days ago. Sources involved in the decision-making process revealed that the bridge’s plaque, and stones used to build it, are still strong, and deserve preservation, in spite of the difficulties involved. “We will be keeping the plaque and ensuring that it is installed in the new bridge. We are also trying to get details about Hancock, after whom the bridge is named,” said a senior civic official. The railways have their own museum, where preserve artefacts from demolished sites.

New bridge over old
Municipal Commissioner Sitaram Kunte said he was well aware of the need to preserve the bridge, and confirmed that the BMC was looking at ways to do that. “The alternative to reconstructing the existing bridge would be to construct a new bridge over it. This would mean that the original bridge would remain intact below the new one, without any vehicular movement on it,” he said.

Meanwhile, CR officials say that they too are keen on preserving the bridge, and in fact, showcase it. “The plaque and a slice of this stone bridge can be preserved, and in fact kept for display for students of civil engineering schools. It’s a structural marvel,” said SK Sood, General Manager, CR.

Only verbal negotiations are on between the BMC and the CR, and no concrete decision has been taken yet. “If they have written a letter, then I am yet to see it. But preservation is necessary,” added Sood. The BMC, on the other hand, said that a letter is in the process of being drafted, which will be ready very soon, so that work can be carried out smoothly. “I have personally inspected the bridge from the railway tracks, and it is in very bad shape,” said Kunte.

The BMC has agreed to pay for the reconstruction of the bridge. “The CR has asked us to pay for reconstruction, but we have decided that instead of giving money to the railway, the BMC will demolish and reconstruct the whole bridge at its own expense,” said a senior BMC official. The work is slated to start in the next six months. Next in line is Carnac Bunder Bridge, also in a precarious condition.

Heritage bridge

>> The Hancock bridge was constructed in 1879, and rebuilt in 1923.

>> Due to its fragile condition, the Central Railway is skeptical about raising its height, which is also one of the options to complete
the power upgradation work from 1500-volt DC to 25,000-volt AC on the central rail network.

>> Railway officials claim that they can lower the tracks for the power conversion, but are worried about water-logging in monsoons.

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