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Highrise to oust Bishop House

The Bishop of Calcutta, Reverend P.S.P. Raju, has at last had his way. After considering his proposal for over a year, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) has granted him permission to knock down the rear section of the Bishop’s House and construct a multi-storeyed building in its place. Bishop’s House at 51, Chowringhee Road was constructed in 1848 by the Church of England as the Lord Bishop’s “abode”. Bishop Heber (1825-1849) had personally supervised its construction and even raised funds for it. Its heritage value is irrefutable.

Besides the Ionic columns of the facia, inside, it has a very elegant wooden staircase. It has five suites on the second floor named after five Bishops who lived there and its walls are hung with old paintings. It figures on the CMC’s heritage list.

But now in a volte face, the CMC will allow Bishop’s House to be developed provided the colonnaded façade is preserved and the open space around it is left the way it is. In his proposal to the CMC, the Bishop has said since the building was antiquated, the section behind should make way for a structure compatible with contemporary use. A member of the heritage committee has inspected the building and greenlighted the project. However, an unauthorised structure behind the colonnaded façade will have to be removed.

Bishop Raju was not available for comment but his secretary, Revd Ashok Biswas, confirmed that the ban on rebuilding Bishop’s House has been lifted. The diocese that owns this prime property covering 6,000 sq ft has not yet decided who will develop it.

An earlier move to rebuild Bishop’s House into an eight-storey highrise two years ago was stalled when non-governmental organisations opposed it on “heritage grounds”. Revd Raju had said earlier that this development project was part of the cash-strapped diocese’s attempt at generating resources. The Bishop has his eye on two other prime plots in Behala and on Elgin Road. An earlier attempt to develop the grounds of St John’s Church, where the Bishop lives, was also aborted.

Commenting on this new development, G.M. Kapur, convenor, Intach, Calcutta and West Bengal chapters, says: “This is setting a bad precedent. What is the sanctity of heritage if the heritage committee has not taken cognisance of the historicity of this building' There should be more transparency in what the CMC approves. What were the plans they (the diocese) gave' Nobody is against development. But surely it does not mean rampant development at the cost of the city’s heritage.”

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