| (From left) Mayor Subrata Mukherjee, British deputy high commissioner Andrew Hall, London Rivers Association chairman George Nicholson and Philip Davies of English Heritage at the Waterfront Workshop in a city hotel on Tuesday. Picture by Pabitra Das
The clink of glasses, the hushed tones of business negotiations, the booming music of night-clubs… all in converted warehouses overlooking the Hooghly. That — and a couple of World Cup finals — is all part of Calcutta’s Dream 2008.
Beautifying the waterfront has been on the city’s agenda for some years now, evidence of which is Millennium Park and the Prinsep Ghat clean-up. State agencies, industry and NGOs have been working in tandem with planners from London to rejuvenate the banks of the river. On Tuesday, a ‘Waterfront Workshop’, a follow-up of a similar session held three years ago, was kicked off to draw up plans for the next phase of activity.
Now, apart from continuation of the work on the waterfront, the idea of creating a “heritage zone”, stretching to BBD Bag, has also been floated. NGOs have proposed to extend this to Chowringhee and the Park Street area.
British deputy high commissioner Andrew Hall and mayor Subrata Mukherjee were present for the inaugural session at the Oberoi Grand, before an audience of “key stakeholders” and delegates from the British agencies involved with the project, including George Nicholson, chairman of the London Rivers Association, central to this partnership.
“New and imaginative uses are being found for old industrial and port facilities. Docks become boating marinas. Warehouses and disused power stations make wonderful spaces for museums and galleries. Godowns are being converted into highly-desirable waterfront apartments,” said Hall, commenting on the “major steps” taken in this direction by the city already.
A “practical action plan” is to be prepared by the delegates of the workshop by Thursday. The mayor urged the participants to keep in mind the financial constraints faced by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC).
“We need to draw up a workable masterplan… Look into the funding aspects as well. Usually, that is thought of as the job of the administration,” said Mukherjee. Not only capital investment, but funding for the “maintenance and upkeep” should be addressed too, added the mayor.
These plans, stress the British visitors, are integral to the promotion of Calcutta as a tourist destination. “More than any other city, Calcutta encapsulates the relationship between Britain and India,” said Phillip Davies of English Heritage. “I am tired of hearing Calcutta being referred to as a city of Mother Teresa… It is a city of palaces.”
The workshop has been divided into three groups to deliberate on different aspects of development — ‘movement and connection’, ‘money matters’ and ‘heritage and design’. Teams of designers are working along with the groups to visualise workable models.
Nicholson’s dream vision is one that includes restaurants for the business district, museums, shops, conference halls, river cruises, hotels…
Calcutta will wait, and hopefully, soon watch the action off the water.