|“Bhulbhal ja korbo khoma korte hobe (you must excuse whatever mistakes I make),” Mamata Banerjee said on
Thursday, referring not to governance
but to her attempt, on public demand,
to render a song by Rabindranath
Tagore on his death anniversary.
After complaining of hoarseness
because of the panchayat elections, she agreed to sing “a couple of lines” and treated the audience at Jorasanko
Thakurbari to “Jhoro jhoro borishe
baridhara”, a song about pelting rain
that matched the day’s weather.
The chief minister then rolled out a virtual playlist to illustrate how Tagore had a song to suit every mood. Her
Feeling sad: Jiban jokhon shukaye jaye, karuna dharay esho (When life withers, come in a rush of compassion) / Ei korechho bhalo nithura hey (So be it, O ruthless one); Feeling inspired: Prano bhoriye trisha horiye more aaro aaro aaro dao pran (Fill my heart, slake my thirst with the gift of more abundant life). Picture by Amit Datta
Calcutta, Aug. 8: The chief minister’s brave announcement about restoring Writers’ Buildings sprang fault-lines today as it became apparent that the planning behind this giant project has been scratchy at best.
Leading architects today told The Telegraph the most crucial requirements for a project like this were thorough research on the original building plan, a clear idea about the changes to be made, and the selection of experts to do the job.
Ticking all these boxes and completing the project should take “a good one or two years”, said award-winning Mumbai-based conservation architect Vikas Dilawari. A rather vague deadline of “a few months” was mentioned during yesterday’s announcement.
Architect Balkrishna Vithaldas Doshi said over the phone from Ahmedabad that the first thing the government should do in a project like this is set up an expert panel of planners and urban designers to decide the modifications. The committee should be powerful enough to select the architects, who should be appointed by invitation without any “tender business”.
Writers’ sources revealed the project groundwork was done and dusted at a couple of meetings, and the government itself took the decision to assign the architects of Jadavpur University and the Bengal Engineering College and Science University (Besu) to work out the plan — in less than a month.
Around a month ago, the original plan of 1777, the year Writers’ was built, was pulled out of a locker and a CD was made to be shown to the chief minister, revealed an official. At the same meeting, a committee was formed comprising the principal secretaries of urban development, PWD and transport with the chief secretary heading it.
At a later meeting, Mamata and her officials decided to hand the planning to Besu and JU with an August 15 deadline. That is how hastily the plan hurtled along, contrary to the gradual steps the experts The Telegraph spoke to suggested.
Sunita Kohli, one of India’s best-known designer-restorers whose projects have included Rashtrapati Bhavan, the Prime Minister’s Office and Hyderabad House, described how thorough the research needs to be.
“You have to know everything, or most things, about any structure you want to restore. All documentation, all existing records must be thoroughly studied and I would get a group of experts to do that.”
One of the key assumptions made by the team engaged by Mamata has been called into question. Arup Sarkar, Besu head of architecture, town and regional planning, said Writers’ “resembles the St Pancras railway station in London” and the plan was to restore it to “what it was in 1885”.
But Philip Davies, an expert in colonial architecture and former head of English Heritage in London, said: “St Pancras is High Victorian Gothic. It is close in its look to the VT (Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) railway station of Bombay. Writers’…. on the other hand is a much older structure. It is Romanesque.”
He added in an email: “It is vital that this (Writers’ restoration) is planned and managed properly by conservation experts.”
The government’s lack of homework is reflected in a change of plan officials have already had to consider within a day: shifting Writers’ offices to Howrah’s HRBC Building (to allow the renovation) in two phases rather than at one go as Mamata had announced yesterday.
Officials today woke up to the fact that the HRBC Building, at 1.5 lakh sqft, was too small to accommodate Writers’ 5.5 lakh sqft worth of offices together.
PWD officials have decided to suggest that 11 departments, including the chief minister’s office and the finance and home ministries — all housed in Writers’ main section — be moved on October 1. After the main section is renovated, the remaining 17 departments would be shifted permanently to the HRBC Building.
No official was willing to speculate how Mamata might react to the revised plan. The difficulties in meeting the chief minister’s deadline will be discussed at a meeting on Saturday in the presence of chief secretary Sanjay Mitra. After that the chief minister’s office will be informed of the need to tweak the plan.