Mumbai: Experts stunned as IIT-B says, pull down Esplanade Mansion

Published: May 23, 2019, 09:07 IST | Arita Sarkar

Contrary to MHADA's assurance that the crumbling building could be restored, report says it will have to be demolished; conservationists call it a cop-out

Mumbai: Experts stunned as IIT-B says, pull down Esplanade Mansion
Two IIT-B professors recommended that repairs to Esplanade Mansion would neither be logical nor economically viable. FILE PIC

After months of waiting, IIT-Bombay has submitted the structural stability report for the 150-year-old Esplanade Mansion to the Bombay High Court, recommending the demolition of the building. This has come as a shock to heritage conservationists who feel the UNESCO World Heritage Site should be restored instead. MHADA had earlier told the court that the building could be repaired without being pulled down.

In July 2018, HC had appointed IIT-B to carry out a structural audit of the building, which is a cast iron structure, to ascertain whether repairs can be carried out. The report, submitted in court earlier this week, stated that based on a visual inspection of the building, 'the angle cleats on the columns, the bolts connecting the beams and columns and the tie rods are broken at several places'. It further observed that the 'rigidity of the structure is lost' which has 'resulted in creation of wide gaps between the columns and walls and beams'.

'No logic or viability'

The report also mentioned that the 'masonry walls have developed horizontal, vertical and diagonal cracks as a result of possible lateral movements in the buildings'. Several kinds of alterations to the building were also noted, which had increased the load on the original structure. The electrical cables and connections too were found to be 'dangerously arranged increasing the risk of fire in the structure'.

Two professors from IIT-B's civil engineering department recommended that repairs to the structure would neither be logical nor economically viable and stated that carrying them out would be dangerous since many of the structural elements are not rigidly connected to each other. It also noted 'the repairs also cannot make the structure habitable under seismic conditions' and ended the report with stating Esplanade Mansion should be demolished.

The Esplanade Mansion, known as the Watson Hotel till the 1960's, is believed to be the country's oldest surviving cast iron building. Heritage conservationists and other experts strongly disagree with IIT-B's opinion and feel the structure can still be repaired.

Conservationist Abha Narain Lambah, who had played a role in getting the structure recognized by UNESCO said if engineers could build it in 1869, it would be shocking to believe they do not have the bandwidth to restore it in 2019. "The structure can be dismantled and re-constructed with cast iron. All the cast iron columns cannot be beyond repair. New casting can be done for those in a bad state. Since a cast iron building is modular, you can retrofit and restore it. Just because you don't have the bandwidth to restore the structure doesn't mean you give up on a heritage building," she said.

'Real cop-out'

Similarly, Nayana Kathpalia, a trustee of NAGAR, couldn't believe IIT-B's recommendation either. "This is a real cop-out by IIT-B. The structure is a world heritage site and has to be restored using the same kind of material. There is nothing in this world that cannot be restored," she said. Members of the Heritage Committee too hoped there would be a way to restore or retain the structure; they didn't wish to comment further since the matter is subjudice.

Tenants to oppose report

The report was also disappointing for Ashok Sarogi, the advocate representing the landlord Sadiq Ali and other tenants of the building, including the recently refurbished Army Restaurant, now known as Sabalan: The Taste of Persia.

Sarogi said he will oppose the recommendations at the next hearing on June 4, "MHADA had already agreed to carry out repairs and were going to submit their plans on June 3. They cannot go back on their word now and demolish the structure, which is a heritage site and should be preserved."

MHADA says

The Maharashtra Housing and Development Authority (MHADA) which received the report on Wednesday, had earlier agreed to carry out repairs during the ongoing court case.
"The report has recommended the demolition of the building. We are now waiting for further directions from HC," said a senior official from MHADA's repair and reconstruction board. Meanwhile, BMC officials said they are yet to receive a copy of the report.

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