While acknowledging that cities cannot be turned into museums and will change over time, IIT-Kharagpur associate professor (architecture & regional planning) Sanghamitra Basu said management of change was required so that Kolkata could retain its significance. “We need to evolve rules to help preserve as well as manage the development of precincts that we consider significant to the city heritage,” the member of the KMC heritage preservation committee said.
A zone-wise focus on conservation efforts has a better chance of being successful than looking at properties piecemeal. This is a proven fact all over the world. Kolkata should learn from this and tweak its heritage-conservation norms.
Writer Amit Chaudhuri felt KMC needed to act quickly to help preserve the character of the city and its uniqueness. “It is not Howrah bridge or Victoria that makes Kolkata the city we love but the neighbourhoods with distinctly similar yet different houses. The south has many Art Deco houses while the north has neo-classical features. These houses are being pulled down with alarming regularity,” said the founder of Calcutta Architectural Legacies, a pressure group on heritage conservation.
Chaudhuri also argued that areas like Marine Drive or Fort area in Mumbai, Lutyens Delhi or the French quarters in Puducherry weren’t preserved accidentally but because there was law against their destruction. “It isn’t about preserving ancient heritage, it is also about modernity. A lawyer’s house in the 1920s is a unique interpretation of how a person lived in the city, how residents were thinking about neighbourhoods. Kolkata is one of the great cities of modernity. And we need to protect it,” he said, adding that it was imperative for key members of KMC to get themselves informed about heritage precincts and why they were critical for Kolkata.
Intach’s GM Kapur pointed to several neighbourhoods like Hastings, Elgin Road, Camac Street and Theatre Road that have been irreversibly altered but felt several others like Purna Das Road, Hindustan Park, Lee Road, Creek Row and Chitpore could still be preserved. “It is crucial that we protect our tangible and intangible heritage,” he said.
Urban conservationist Kamalika Bose called for designating heritage precincts to ensure sustainable development of historically and culturally significant areas. “You need legislation to safeguards collective character and look beyond cherry-picking individual architectural landmarks. For Kolkata this is urgent and essential as several neighbourhoods, urban settings and public open spaces can still be saved from irreversible and incongruent change,” she pointed out.
Conservation architect Partha Ranjan Das has already submitted a draft on how heritage precincts can be incorporated in the heritage rule under the KMC Act. “We have to look at heritage in a holistic manner,” he said.