MEHRU JAFFER | 3 OCTOBER, 2018
19th century portico knocked down
LUCKNOW: Since the public outcry fell on deaf ears, a group of concerned citizens have come together to try and save what is left of Lucknow’s cultural heritage. According to lawyer and activist Mohammad Haider, the cultural heritage of the city is under attack in the name of development.
Bulbul Godiyal, senior lawyer, former additional advocate general and founder of Citizens for Lucknow, passionately feels that it is essential to preserve monuments and the cultural heritage of the city. Along with fellow citizens Godiyal will lead a protest on October 20, against further bulldozing of buildings of beauty and of architectural importance.
The latest provocation is the knocking down of the portico of the office of the Divisional Railway Manager (DRM). This is a building dating from the late 19th century that is being ruined to make room for the metro.
Soon after the sinful incident, heritage lovers decided to hold a public protest later this month, where a memorandum will be presented to the governor of Uttar Pradesh. Members of the newly formed group Citizens for Lucknow are determined to create awareness about the importance of preserving the cultural heritage of the city.
“We will share with citizens a power point presentation and exhibit photographs of our unprotected heritage in institutions like schools and colleges. We need to study how heritage is protected in other states and the constitutional and statutory provisions of byelaws elsewhere. We need to highlight success stories such as the restoration of heritage properties like the Sibtainabad Imambara, and to define a way ahead,” Haider said.
For Dr Anjan Kumar Banerjee, former bureaucrat, cultural heritage means the aesthetic blending of the modern with the old. Not replacing everything old with the new.
Ravindra Singh, former secretary of culture in the IAS said that the Indian Railways was protecting its heritage buildings and restoring old train carriages and locomotives. The Victoria Terminus (Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) in Mumbai is already a World Heritage site.
Lucknow has much to learn from Mumbai if it wants to preserve its history.
The DRM’s office is a structure from colonial times in Hazratganj, the fashionable shopping street developed by the British in imitation of London’s Queensway. The kilometer long Hazratganj area was once dotted with a countless number of architectural jewels, some of which have already collapsed, and other heritage sites replaced with monstrosities in the name of buildings.
In Lucknow there is no official list of buildings that are under threat, making Aditya Chakravarti wonder how they can save anything without knowing what to save.
“This beautiful colonial building in Hazratganj, lined with similar buildings, was built around the 1870s. It did undergo subsequent changes. It is now the DRM's office. The portico at the far end was pulled down recently to make way for metro construction. Is this the respect we have towards what is old and also ours: our heritage?” Chakravarti asked.
Once known for its stunning architecture and sprawling gardens, Lucknow's citizens now helplessly watch the city metamorphose into an overcrowded, concrete jungle swarming with trigger-happy thieves and thugs. The River Gomti running through Lucknow has shrunk in a city that has already lost much of its green cover.
There is an urgent need now to frame and provide statutory backing to a set of heritage byelaws. The other need is for an official list of monuments in the city.
Vipul Varshney, a local architect, said that three years ago her office prepared a voluminous document listing nearly 200 buildings and other important landmarks of the city of architectural, archeological and historical importance.
“But do you think anyone has time to read the document and to give it an official nod? Nobody till now has done anything,” Varshney regretted.
The other problem is that private owners of buildings of historic importance have the right to demolish or sell their property, and it is not possible to ask for a stay from the courts to prevent the owners from doing so.
The city is strewn with innumerable precious sites worthy of becoming tourist attractions and making it to UNESCO's World Heritage list, but a lack of identification and recognition of places of historic importance is forcing Lucknow to fall into cultural ruin instead.
However, those citizens who have woken up to their historic responsibility have done so not a minute too soon, to do what they can to preserve the cultural heritage of the city for posterity. A city that was once famous worldwide as the Paris of the East.