Mumbai: Esplanade Mansion cannot be restored to original state unless demolished, says MHADA

Updated: Nov 16, 2019, 11:46 IST | Arita Sarkar | Mumbai

'In view of the IIT Bombay's report, unless and until the building is demolished, it is not possible to restore the building to its original position,' MHADA's affidavit said.

MHADA has based its response on a structural audit report by IIT Bombay. Pic/ Ashish Raje
MHADA has based its response on a structural audit report by IIT Bombay. Pic/ Ashish Raje

Despite receiving directions from the Urban Development (UD) department to restore the Esplanade Mansion as per heritage standards, the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) has decided to stick to its guns on the matter. MHADA countered the state government's last affidavit that reiterated the UD department's stand with the response that the building cannot be restored to its original state unless it is demolished and reconstructed using the same material. Surprised that it is choosing to go against the UD department's stand, activists slammed MHADA for suggesting demolishing a World Heritage Site.

"In view of the IIT Bombay's report, unless and until the building is demolished, it is not possible to restore the building to its original position," MHADA's affidavit said. As such, for its restoration with the same material, the land and the building will have to be acquired.

Lack of adequate funds continued to be the basis of MHADA's request to permit demolition. MHADA had appointed an architect to prepare an estimate for the building's repairs, which came up to Rs 32.03 crore. It argued that despite spending that much amount of money, the stability of the building will not be certain and that it cannot ignore the observations made by the IIT-Bombay (IIT-B), which categorically states that repairs cannot make the structure habitable under its seismic conditions.

The affidavit is based largely on the structural audit report filed by the IIT-B earlier this year. Based on a visual inspection of the building, IIT-B's report had recommended that the structure be demolished since repairs to the structure would neither be logical nor economically viable. While the Bombay High Court's had asked for a reply by November 13, MHADA was unable to do so and will now have to submit the reply at the next hearing on November 17.

After recommending the demolition, MHADA also stated, "Once it is demolished, its heritage status comes to an end." This would let MHADA construct the building by utilising available FSI to accommodate all occupants. The remaining area, if any, can be used to accommodate other tenants "languishing in the transit camp".

MhadaMHADA says it is apprehensive about the cost of restoration. Pics/ Ashish Raje

An official from MHADA said that another apprehension is that restoration of Esplanade Mansion could set an expensive precedent. "There are over 100 heritage buildings in Fort area. If we spend R32 crore to restore one building, everyone else will ask for the same and we simply don't have the authority or the funds to do that. We can spend a maximum of R2 crore to carry out repairs of the building," said the official.

Heritage conservationists and enthusiasts, however, feel that MHADA probably doesn't realise the difference between restoration and reconstruction. Moulshri Joshi, architect and National Correspondent for TICCIH (The International Committee for the Conservation of the Industrial Heritage), India and a member of ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites), said that the idea of restoring through demolition is a paradox. "Demolition and rebuilding is a conservation strategy for industrial buildings when no other strategy is available or when the structure needs to be moved out of its original location. We have no conclusive study in the public domain, which supports this shift from "conservation" to "reconstruction" as the only available solution to conserving Esplanade Mansion. Why rebuild if it can be restored?" she said. Joshi added that it is inauthentic to recreate a replica. Besides once it is allowed to be demolished, there is no guarantee that it would be built back and to the original," she said.

Heritage conservationist Abha Narain Lambah said that MHADA's argument is a contradictory one. She explained that the idea of dismantling and re-building the structure using the same material is a process called 'anastylosis' which is different from re-development. "They have to make up their mind whether they are proposing to restore the structure or redevelop it. If it's restoration, then they cannot use additional FSI to accommodate other tenants since they can't make additions to the (original) structure," she said.

She pointed out that a grade II heritage building cannot be allowed to be demolished simply because the repairs are expensive. "The IIT Bombay's report says that the restoration is not economically viable. But that doesn't mean that it is out of the realm of structural possibility. The IIT should then submit a report saying that restoration is structurally impossible," she said. She added that the cost of restoration cannot be a deciding factor because when the dossier for the Victorian Gothic and Art Deco Ensemble was submitted, the government knew about the condition of Watson's Hotel and had given a written affidavit stating that it was committed to saving it.

Vehemently opposing the idea of demolishing the structure which is part of the Victorian Gothic and Art Deco Ensembles of Mumbai and is included in UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites, Nayana Kathpalia, trustee of NAGAR (NGO Alliance for Governance And Renewal) said, "It is disgraceful that MHADA should say something like this about a heritage structure that is a World Heritage Site. Esplanade Mansion is such a great feather in Mumbai's cap. The option of demolition shouldn't be there at all especially when conservation architects are saying that it is repairable," she said, adding that MHADA shouldn't be following just the IIT-B's report.

Surprised that MHADA would go against the directions of the UD department, conservation professional and executive director of Urban Design Research Institute, Pankaj Joshi said that the cost does not play a role in the decision if MHADA agrees that the structure can be restored. "The Esplanade Mansion is a non-conventional structure and it will be useful for MHADA to take the opinion of qualified conservation architects. MHADA should follow the directions given by the UD and restore the structure," he said.

When contacted, Nitin Kareer, principal secretary of UD department said he did not wish to comment until he has had a look at the affidavit.

NOV 17
Day when MHADA will submit response in court

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