Mumbai: Will Metro Line III come at the cost of city's heritage?

Nov 11, 2017, 13:34 IST | Team mid-day

The authorities are touting the Metro Line III as the future, but is it worth it if it comes at the cost of our past, our history?

The authorities are touting the Metro Line III as the future, but is it worth it if it comes at the cost of our past, our history? Digging for the underground Metro corridor is yet to begin, and just the preliminary construction work has led to vibrations in some of the city's oldest and most iconic structures. Experts have raised concerns that unless the Metro's route is changed, it might cause extensive damage to the foundation of heritage buildings in the area, some of which are over 100 years old. In the worst-case scenario, these vibrations may cause our heritage to crumble.

Illustration/Uday Mohite
Illustration/Uday Mohite

Crack of doom
Structure: Siddharth College
Established in: 1946
Heritage status: Grade 2
Significance: Started by Dalit icon and the Father of the Constitution, BR Ambedkar, to afford equal educational opportunities for all.
Threat: The 71-year-old building had developed cracks earlier, but these began to widen when the piling work began for Metro III. Part of a pillar in the basement also collapsed due to the vibrations. The college had earlier started a signature campaign against the Metro III work, alleging that it was causing structural damage to the building and endangering the lives of students and staff. At the time, MMRC chief Ashwini Bhide had issued this statement: "We would like to clarify that these cracks are old… not because of the piling work..."

Not a 'petit' problem
Structure: JN Petit Library
Established in: 1898
Heritage status: Grade 2A
Significance: Home to hundreds of rare books, it's also one of the best examples of Neo-Gothic architecture in the city. It was recognised with a UNESCO award in 2015.
Threat: On August 25, an ornamental piece on the Petit structure fell off the building. Following this, trustees moved the Bombay High Court, blaming the Metro construction. Work outside Petit Library is currently stalled after the HC passed a stay order until the matter is heard. MMRC is now carrying out support work at the building to ensure damage is minimised.

What lies beneath: A real horror story
Structure: Wadia Atash Behram
Established in: 1830
Heritage status: Grade 3
Significance: It is the holiest of holy fires; there are only nine of these in the world.
Threat: The Parsi community fears the desecration of the holy fire as the Metro III tunnel will pass right under the temple. MMRC has explained that the tunnel will not pass under the sanctum sanctorum, but Parsis object to the tunnel's presence anywhere under the complex. So far, 10,961 people have signed the community's petition against Metro III.

All's not well
Structure: Bhikha Behram well
Established in: 1725
Heritage status: Grade I heritage structure
Significance: It is one of the few Parsi wells in the city and one of Mumbai's oldest sunken sweet water sources.
Threat: There are concerns that the digging of the Metro III tunnel may drain out water from the sub-soil completely. Dr Rama Krishna, Powai geologist, had earlier told this paper, "I had concerns because the digging for the tunnel of the Metro line was going to be around 12-18m. Though the central line of excavation would pass about 50 ft (15 m) from the well, there is bound to be a drop in the water level."

Fountain of tremors
Structure: Flora fountain
Established in: 1864
Heritage status: Grade I
Significance: The fountain depicts the Roman goddess Flora, and is located at the spot where the church-side gate of the Old Mumbai Fort once stood.
Threat: In June, engineers from the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee (MHCC) wrote to the Metro authorities to warn that minor vibrations had been felt in the arms of the statue due to the piling work for Metro III. Although the Metro line is 100m away from the fountain, the vibrations could still pose a threat to the structure's delicate masonry work, MHCC official Sudarshan Shirsath had said.

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HC's stay order
In October, the Bombay High Court directed the MMRC to file an affidavit disclosing how it planned to protect the JN Petit Institute from damage. A bench of Chief Justice Manjula Chellur and justice Nitin Jamdar restrained the MMRC from carrying out construction work there building until the building is reinforced.

The other side
A spokesperson from the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC) issued this statement: "Best International instrument and monitoring process are followed for ensuring safety. For heritage and weak buildings, 24X7 online monitoring will also be undertaken when considered necessary."

MHCC says
'The Metro work doesn't seem to have affected Flora Fountain as we had feared earlier. We have not got any other complaints' an MHCC engineer

13 lakh
Estimated ridership on Metro III by 2020

292
Age (in years) of Bhikha Behram well

187
Age (in years) of Wadia Atash Behram

153
Age (in years) of Flora Fountain

10,961
No. of people who signed Parsi petition against Metro III

Rs 23,136 cr
Estimated cost of Metro III project

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