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Heritage heartbreak for hotel

Calcutta, Sept. 1: Great Eastern Hotel has been honoured with the heritage building certificate. It’s an honour it could have done without.

The Bengal government’s protracted on-and-off efforts to privatise the state-run, financially bleeding 1835-vintage hotel has been dealt another blow by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation, led by Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress.

The civic authorities have asked the hotel not to undertake any work that involves development or modification of the building without their knowledge. Any privatisation attempt will involve changes to the building.

In a letter, the municipality has informed Great Eastern that the building that sits at the Old Court House Street-Waterloo Street intersection is a defined heritage structure and cannot be modified, altered or developed.

“…Before formulating any plans for addition/alteration /modification/development of the said building, you may (approach) the chief municipal architect and town planner for clearance of the heritage conservation committee…”

The state’s Heritage Commission, the apex body to which the committee is accountable, said today the hotel has been told it cannot address the issue of privatisation if that entails renovation of the building.

“After the hotel is declared a heritage building, the management cannot do anything on its own. Whether it is privatisation or renovation, we have to be taken into account on every matter relating to the issue of heritage. Our concern is preservation and not privatisation, ” said commission chairman Pratap Chandra Chunder.

The full commission will meet on September 9 to discuss Great Eastern and other issues.

Government officials fear that the heritage tag might stand in the way of privatising the hotel and will certainly do so in carrying out renovation, urgently required.

R.K. Tripathi, tourism secretary, said the heritage label might jeopardise privatisation efforts “if a solution (to the resultant tangle) is not hammered out”.

Hotel member-secretary Jagannath Bag confirmed having received a letter from A. Karforma, municipal architect and town planner, on August 27 that informed of the heritage status.

Such is the depth of desperation at the hotel that the management is planning to set aside 50 rooms to rent out to senior citizens, students and working ladies.

“This will at least help us get a regular and steady flow of income, no matter how little the amount,” said Bag, adding that the move follows the depleting occupancy rate.

According to him, though the hotel has nearly 150 rooms, only 20 to 25 are occupied. “A set of 50 rooms located in the same row on the third floor of the main building can easily be used as accommodation for students, working ladies and senior citizens,” he said.

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