For an eternity, Calcutta has turned its back on the river, and paid a heavy price for the apathy ' Charles Correa.
Every time one of India's greatest architects comes to town, his desire for meaningful development on the riverfront comes shining through.
The visionary who has given Calcutta the City Centre has one enduring dream: to create something on the waterfront that would 'bring the river back into the consciousness of the city'. Not an out-and-out commercial venture, but a platform 'to enable the public to participate in the river, to bask in its beauty and serenity and be energised'.
Correa's dream project finally looks like setting sail with Writers' Buildings flagging off a well-orchestrated initiative involving all the stakeholders by the river, starting with a closed-door meeting held in chief secretary Ashok Gupta's chamber on November 25.
Suggestions were sought from the Port Trust to the railways, Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) to Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA), the Inland Waterways Authority of India, West Bengal Tourism and INTACH, police and the environment department.
'The agencies were urged to come up with any document they might have prepared or any concrete proposal for development along the river by this month-end,' said Partha Ranjan Das, city-based architect-planner and Correa collaborator.
Das, appointed by Writers' to co-ordinate among the various stakeholders and with Correa, who will act as adviser, felt it was the primary prod from the architect who divides his time between Mumbai and Massachusetts that set the riverfront revamp ball rolling.
On June 5, the day his signature project in Salt Lake was unveiled, Correa told chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya about an integrated riverside development project he would want to get involved in. A meeting was then arranged with chief secretary Gupta.
'As former chairman of the National Commission of Urbanisation, Correa had studied all major state capitals and always felt the true potential of Calcutta's river was never realised,' said Das.
Correa had, at Writers', stressed the need for 'an extremely sensitive and holistic solution respecting the sacred character' of the Hooghly and what it meant to the citizens of Calcutta. 'By doing just cosmetic uplift in a piecemeal manner, we are only trivialising the river,' he had told the chief secretary.
Correa's point seems to have been driven home, with all agencies agreeing in principle to one masterplan, with the 'core area' stretching from Chinsurah to Budge Budge.
Das, piloting the primary process of data collection and mapping of the action strip, felt the stretch was 'unique' since it had housed trade hubs of five European majors ' the Dutch, the Danes, the French, the Portuguese and the British.
'While shaping the solution, our goal would be to de-weed the trade and commerce association and bring our rich cultural fabric to the river,' said Das, adding that no development along the river was viable ignoring the western bank.
'Howrah has to be brought into the fold and we have to delineate a single authority which encompasses both the banks of the river, somewhat like the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Authority in Washington DC,' Das added.
Another meeting of all stakeholders is slated for early next year, with Correa expected to sit in.