The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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LIC buildings in the pink of health

The Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC) is all set to give its valuable property in prime localities of the city a new lease of life. Esplanade Mansion, opposite Raj Bhavan, gleams with a new coat of paint put on at a cost of Rs 11 lakh. Perhaps a less blatant shade of lilac would have sufficed but nobody should have any quarrel with that so long as the huge operatic building is in the pink of health.

Amit Yadav, deputy chief engineer, LICI, engineering maintenance cell, eastern zonal office, says more than 60 per cent of the job of restoring Queens’ Mansion internally is over. He says the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) has appreciated the work done. But Caltech India, that is on the job, is facing obstruction from certain tenants, both residential and commercial, responsible for putting up unauthorised constructions. CMC’s help is required for removing these. The work is expected to be over by October.

Now LIC is about to embark on a prestigious project that Calcutta has been awaiting for a long time — restoration of Metropolitan Building at the head of Chowringhee, the building that once used to house the legendary department store Whiteway & Laidlaw.

As part of the pilot project, executed nearly three years ago, Caltech India had restored a panel facing SN Banerjee Road. But that is already begrimed. However, work will begin anew soon, says Yadav.

The work will be divided in two sections — external and internal. For executing the external part of the project, that is the façade of the building, Mackintosh Burn, managed by the state government, has been chosen. Of the seven-eight applicants, the consultants, Dulal Mukherjee Associates, recommended three. The final choice fell on Mackintosh Burn. The Rs 82-lakh project has a time span of 24 months. Architect Dulal Mukherjee said at least one conservation architect will be involved in the project.

The site was handed over on February 4, and now applications have been made to CMC for clearing red tape. The actual work will probably start after March 15, said Yadav. Mackintosh has opened its office in the building. Yadav added that the stained glass atrium of the building, too, will be restored.

Mackintosh Burn, which had designed and constructed the turn-of-the-century Metropolitan Building, has undertaken many prestigious facelift projects in the past — Victoria House, Grand Hotel, Nakhoda Masjid, St Paul’s Cathedral and the Indian Museum. Asked if Caltech India will be involved, Nilmani Dhar, managing director, Mackintosh Burn, said the former was often called in the past to undertake specialised jobs. The same holds true for this project too. Perhaps Mackintosh would have been the best choice for undertaking both sections because that would have ensured coordination.

However, work on the internal section will be undertaken by Mass Construction Limited recommended by Dulal Mukherjee Associates out of nine applicants. The tender for the Rs 3.5-crore project is being finalised and work is expected to begin in mid-April. This company had undertaken the internal pilot project a few years ago. Tenants were aghast when chunks of marble used to be yanked out from the floors. Yadav said he will ensure this is not repeated this time.

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