Esplanade Mansion will not be demolished

The heritage Esplanade Mansion at Kala Ghoda will survive. MHADA, which had recently issued notices to all occupants to vacate the building, has said that the building will be repaired, instead of being demolished. BMC and MHADA officials had earlier said that the building was so dilapidated that there was no other go than razing it. Officials said that right now, the building is propped up externally under the supervision of a registered structural engineer. The 155-year-old grade II-A heritage structure once served as Bombay’s first luxury hotel, the Watson’s Hotel, is listed among the top 100 endangered monuments in the world and is part of the UNESCO-declared Victorian and Art Deco Ensembles inscription. While MHADA hasn’t appointed a conservation architect for the restoration work, officials said after submitting a status report to the HC, MHADA will chalk out an action plan for the repairs. 

An official said that it will take into account a structural audit report prepared by IIT-Bombay. Since it is a privately-owned cessed building, its owners will be first asked to undertake the restoration themselves, failing which the agency will step in to save the iconic building. According to MHADA officials, the repairs will cost at least INR Rs 31 crore. In 2013, MHADA had pegged the cost of restoration of the cast iron building at INR 17 crore. “We have estimated the rough cost of repairs but we will have to see where the funds will be sourced from,” said Milind Mhaiskar, vice president and chief executive officer, MHADA. The court had earlier said that MHADA would have to spend out of its pocket for the repairs and that it could recover the expenses from the landlords and the tenants. Officials said that MHADA first declared the building dangerous in 2007. Three years later, eviction notices were issued by MHADA to all occupants of the building. Later, a group of tenants led by lawyer Ashok Sarogi moved the Bombay HC, which allowed tenants to occupy the building at their own risk. 

Around 100 tenants occupy over 18,000 sqft of space in the building. In 2015, MHADA tried to vacate the building and pull it down, but the tenants filed a writ petition in the HC, seeking to remain in the building and were given an interim relief. Things came to a head in July last year when portions of the balconies on the second, third and fourth floors collapsed. 

This was the second time that a portion of the building had caved in; in 2005, nine pedestrians were injured in a similar accident. Soon after MHADA decided to demolish the building last year, citing its complete dilapidation, trustees of the Nariman Point Churchgate Citizens’ Association, the Oval Cooperage Residents’ Association and Oval Trust wrote to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis to prevent MHADA from going ahead with the plan. Following directions from the Bombay HC earlier this month, MHADA issued notices to all occupants, asking them to vacate or face forced eviction. Many commercial establishments, including the popular Army Restaurant, which had been served notices by the BMC on March 21and 23 to shut business, had approached the civic body, complaining about the losses that they have been incurring since then. Days later, the city’s oldest tailoring store Smart and Hollywood, which predates Independence and clothed the original Miss Indias, was also asked to shut shop.

Source: Mumbai Mirror

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