It may be a hotspot of theatre and culture and have a long history, but Bengaluru has shown scant respect for its past, having lost a number of its buildings of heritage value over the years in its march towards modernity. The city’s old and beautiful homes have made way for apartments and public heritage buildings have fallen to the greed of builders with successive governments doing little to stop the destruction.
But when the present government set its sights on the graceful Balabrooie guest house, Bengalureans had enough and rushed to its defence, forcing it to give up its plans that would have sounded the death-knell for a building that has seen the likes of Rabindranath Tagore and Indira Gandhi stroll through its corridors. While Balabrooie has been saved, at least for now, its anybody’s guess what the future holds for the heritage structures of the city that still remain.
Seeing its heritage buildings disappear, Bengaluru came up with an Urban Arts Commission with noted architects, Charles Correa and Venkatraman R. on board some years ago. But with no legal backing, the commission was wound up in 2002. Architect Naresh Narasimhan, who redesigned the Manikyavelu Mansion which houses the National Gallery of Modern Art, claims the commission paid the price for opposing the government’s move to demolish the Bangalore Press, a heritage structure, to build the Vikas Soudha. “The commission was against this, and so was dissolved,” he maintains.
Mr Narasimhan, who recently appealed to the Chief Minister to revive the proposal for a heritage regulation law, points out that a draft has been lying with the Town Planning Board for nearly five years. “India has always had laws on archaeology, but there is no clear national level policy on the conservation of built and environmental heritage. That has been one of the big failures of our state,” he rues, pointing out that a heritage regulation law could see the formation of a committee with executive powers to protect heritage structures and include an inventory of built heritage, its classification and chalk out processes for refurbishment of these structures. “Today, Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad and even Panaji have heritage committees, so why is Bengaluru lagging behind?” he asks pertinently.
‘Public access vital to preserving heritage sites’
The likes of the legendary Masti Venkatesh Iyengar and Sir C.V. Raman have their homes in the city. But although they are deserving of the heritage tag there is no gazetted database that protects or even names them, point out experts. “We cannot erase our past, we must preserve our culture, our continuity and our memories,” underlines Mr Sathya Prakash Varanashi, co-convenor of the Bengaluru chapter of INTACH. “There is a listing of heritage buildings for Mysore and there have been some moves to do the same for Bengaluru, but none of it has been gazetted, so it doesn’t count,” he rues.
Also, amendments to the Town and Country Planning Act have been pending for nearly five years, he notes. “The ministry still hasn’t cleared even one amendment. Yes, citizens rallied together to save Balabrooie, but how often can we do this? The government must take cognizance of the situation, it is its job. There is a limit to how effective citizen action can be, “Mr Varanashi adds.
B.PAC CEO, Revathy Ashok, echoes this sentiment, saying, “We cannot be constantly reactive and drag peope out onto the streets. We need a law in place, because there is always a conflict between development and history. It’s essential that we have proper guidelines, otherwise there is no assurance that all our protests and hard work will pay off.”
Emphasising that public access to heritage buildings is important to preserve them, Phanisai Bharadwaj of Namma Bengaluru Foundation (NBF) points out that all kinds of illegal activities could take place inside otherwise. “How do we keep a check on them if the people are not allowed inside?” he asks. “We should be able to access places of historical significance without having to file an RTI,” also stresses Mr Sridhar Pabbisetty, CEO, Namma Bengaluru Foundation.
Balabrooie guest house should be converted into a museum as the government’s gift to the city on its 500th anniversary in 20 years, suggests artist, S.G. Vasudev, pointing out that the city still doesn’t have a museum showcasing its heritage.
Tags: current affairs