City to lose historic (and sturdy) bluestone on curbs

Apr 13, 2012, 06:59 IST | Sujit Mahamulkar

As part of Rs 900-crore road repairs, BMC is replacing robust British-era curbstone with cement blocks; historians, experts, political parties denounce move, say it's a move that will only benefit contractors

The city might soon lose the historic bluestone lining the curbs of pavements. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has said that it will replace the sturdy British-era curbstones with cement blocks at places where the former are missing from the footpath, as part of road reconstruction and resurfacing, both in the city and the suburbs. However, going by its record, it is likely that it might remove and replace the curbstones throughout, experts said.

“The civic body is only replacing missing curbstones with the cement blocks,” assured Ravindra Ghodke, BMC chief engineer, roads department.
But in the past, the corporation has replaced curbstones at stretches as long as 200 metres on P’Demello Road, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Road, Tulsi Pipe Road, and Dr BR Ambedkar Road.

End of an era: Experts opine that the existing curbstones are 10 times more durable than cement blocks, which do not last beyond a decade, if that. Pics/Pradeep Dhivar

Not convinced
Critics believe the replacement work is a moneymaking endeavour to benefit contractors. Said Suhas Sonawane, a historian from Dadar, “This is nothing but a financial dealing. It is possible that the idea was generated to oblige contractors.” The work is covered in contracts worth Rs 570 crore to improve 161 major roads, and Rs 363 crore to improve 544 minor (below 30 feet) roads. The deadline is May 15.

Sonawane added that if the corporation wants to replace only the missing stones, it could get the same type of stone from near Dahanu area. “The BMC has no will to replace the missing curbstones with the same type. Using cement blocks means the contract work will go on and on, like footpath tiles,” said Sonawane. The stones laid in pre-independence India are still intact almost all over the city, except a few that have come off.
Residents have not taken very well to the idea. “It is a big scandal in the name of replacing curbstones,” said GR Vora, a member of F-North citizens’ federation. He said that no survey or study was done before laying the cement blocks in place of curbstones. “The BMC has already laid the cement blocks in Dadar, Matunga and Sion, on Ambedkar Road, without bothering about a durability study or test before doing that,” Vora added. As of now, the work is going on at Dr SS Wagh Road in Dadar (E).

‘Will oppose it’
Local corporator Sunil More of the Congress, a member of the BMC standing committee, said, “I am opposed to replacing the curbstones with cement blocks. I will raise the issue in the committee.” The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena is doubtful about the idea. “I smell something fishy in the contract; the road improvement work is worth over Rs 900 crore,” said Dilip Lande, MNS leader in the BMC.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is also against the BMC’s move of removing the curbstones. Vinod Shelar, BJP corporator from Malad, said, “I will write a letter to the municipal commissioner as curbstones are necessary to keep the footpath strong and intact. Cement blocks will get damaged in the next six months.”

Professor Hemant Pednekar, vice-principal and HoD of the Geography department in Kirti College, said, “Rock is better than cement blocks anytime. The existing curbstones should not be replaced with cement blocks; the latter do not have a long life. Cement blocks can sustain for 5-10 years at most, while curbstone stay for over 100 years.” He also suggested that like heritage structures, roads lined with the 100-year-old stone should be protected by law.  

Did you know?
In 1860, when Bombay Governor Sir Bartle Frere pulled down the old Fort and its ramparts, and filled up the ditches that surrounded it. Formal wide roads were made with footpaths and curbs. The bluestone used to line the curbs was mined by quarrying various hills, including the Nowrosjee Hill, the hills in the Salesette at Kurla and Ghatkopar.

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