Go elsewhere, netas, Carlton House isn't your club

The idea of MLAs having their own club is not being contested, apart from their intention to use Carlton House for the purpose.

In a city where 90 percent of buildings stand in violation of the law, aesthetics and common sense, we are lucky to still have a few vintage buildings, especially the 30-odd buildings on Palace Road. But left to our rapacious politicians, these symbols of heritage will quickly become exclusive ‘clubs’ — after their failed attempt on Balabrooie Guest House, they are now eyeing Carlton House — for their own pleasure rather than serve public purpose as they should, in the form of museums, art galleries and cultural spaces. It’s time citizens laid claim to the city and its heritage, and fought to save them.

“Heritage structures should be inclusive spaces, not exclusive ones,” said architect Naresh Narasimhan, as the government committee formed to identify a spot for the Constitution Club zeroed in on Carlton House. “There are over 30 heritage buildings on the Palace Road stretch, all of which should be converted into galleries, museums and spaces that the public can access.”

Naresh, who is a partner at Venkataramanan Associates, worked with Intach to map a 5-km stretch from the Bangalore Fort on K.R. Road to the Bangalore Palace near Vasanthnagar, identifying several buildings of historical significance. It did receive the chief minister’s nod, but nothing has happened since hardly needs pointing out.

Convert Carlton House into a museum for the Bengaluru police, said historian Suresh Moona, who was in complete agreement of heritage structures being brought into public commons. “We don't have a police museum here in Bengaluru and the department is about 300 years old. That will serve two purposes – bring Carlton House into the public purview and also preserve the history of our police force."

The lack of a governing body or an act in place to protect our city's architectural history has led to numerous attempts to destroy or modify the little that remains of our heritage. "The heritage act is in cold storage as well," added Suresh. "MLAs have picked Carlton House knowing there will be stiff opposition from heritage lovers across the city, but without a governing body in place, there is only so much we an do."

The idea of MLAs having their own club is not being contested, apart from their intention to use Carlton House for the purpose. "Why are they looking at space to this club from amongst our heritage buildings," asked D.S. Rajashekar, president, Citizens’ Action Forum. "These buildings are part of a legacy and must be retained at any cost. MLAs are welcome to their club, but they can go ahead and build it somewhere else," he said. "There's plenty of land available, even in the same area," added Naresh. "Why don't our MLAs build their club from scratch? Unfortunately, all our political parties agree with each other about Carlton House. The only group likely to oppose it is the CID itself!"

carlton house

Activist and theatre person Prakash Belawadi takes a slightly contrarian stand, saying, "I don't mind our MLAs taking over and having a club. That is not the issue at hand." Repurposing a space is only natural, he argued, because context changes all the time. Still, he says, "My only point of concern is the fact that the building should retain its heritage value. As long as they don't make significant alterations to the space, they're welcome to have it. In fact, it might even be a good idea, because it will be well-maintained. Also, on no account should they chop down the trees."

Volumes of history remain in a city that has showed scant respect for its past, making the need for a heritage act that much more pressing. "The chief minister has made a public announcement saying the draft would be tabled immediately," said Naresh, talking about the draft for the heritage regulation law that has been lying with the Town Planning Board for over five years now. "They say it will be done, but it never is. Instead, they want clubs at Balabrooie and Carlton House."

The Heritage Corridor
Back in 2015, Naresh Narasimhan of Venkataramanan Associates and Intach Bengaluru Chapter did a survey of Palace Road, mapping around 40 heritage buildings along the 5-km stretch. The survey urged the government to take another look at declaring the entire stretch a heritage zone and maybe even pedestrianising the area. The heritage structures they identified include: Prominent structures, parks and public utility spaces here: Bangalore Gayana Samaj, K.R. Market, Victoria Hospital, Tipu's Palace, Bangalore Medical College and Research Institute, Fort High School, Carlton House, Vidhana Soudha, Vikasa Soundha, Maharani College, Freedom Park Central College, University Law College, Historic Centre of Bangalore (near Avenue Road junction), Raj Bhavan, Niton Building, Golf Course, Balabrooie Guesthouse, Manikyavelu Mansion, Bangalore Palace and several residential mansions.

Other controversies

Carlton House, 2015
Heritage lovers and activists kicked up a big row, quashing the government's efforts to turn Carlton House into an official residence for CM Siddaramaih. The Public Works Department created a shortlist of seven buildings, Carlton House being one of them. The public outcry was too much to handle, however and the deciding authorities backed out of the proposal.

Balabrooie Guest House 2014
Citizens of Bengaluru emerged victorious after a relentless protest against a proposal to demolish Balabrooie Guesthouse was scrapped. A series of activists and groups like Intach conducted a silent protest outside the 150-year-old structure, which has housed the likes of Rabindranath Tagore when he visited the city.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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