The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Heritage site to hell-hole

The Calcutta circle of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), in an announcement this week, has prohibited any excavation within a 200-metre radius of Currency Building, under Section 32 of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Rules of 1959.

In 1999, Asim Barman, who was then municipal commissioner, had decided to hand over the building to the ASI as the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) had ignored its maintenance and preservation.

The key heritage building in BBD Bag East, which housed the country’s first Reserve Bank of India, has degenerated into an open-air toilet, thanks to prolonged negligence by the Centre and the city’s civic authorities. Over the past five years, the barricade and the stench have forced pedestrians to avoid the pavement of the busy intersection in the hub of the central business district.

Both Calcutta Police and the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) are empowered to take punitive action against anyone urinating in public there, but they never bother to haul up the nuisance-makers. The Union finance ministry and the CMC also have a legal obligation to preserve the building, which was declared a national heritage site by ASI in June 1999, in concurrence with the CMC’s heritage committee during the tenure of the Left Front board.

Currency Building is the first Reserve Bank building in the country and currency notes were first printed here. The structure is more than 150 years old and is included in the list of 75 heritage buildings.

Law doesn’t permit demolition of or any change to the architectural character and design of the building. Law also empowers the CMC to take over management and control of a heritage building if the owner fails to maintain it.

“With no funds for preservation, what will I do by taking over a heritage structure'” asked mayor Subrata Mukherjee. He, however, promised that the conservancy department will be asked to prevent dirtying of the place.

By virtue of the enactment, the CMC could force the Central government to stop demolishing the structure five years ago, and since then, the partially demolished structure has been standing like an archaeological ruin.

The situation at the Currency Building site becomes worse during the monsoons, when R.N. Mukherjee Road often gets waterlogged at the BBD Bag end. Pedestrians are forced to wade through filthy water.

The restoration and preservation work, promised by the Central government four years ago, is yet to start.

Chief municipal architect and town planner Saroj Ghosh said the CPWD had entrusted the restoration work to INTACH. He hoped work would start soon to reconstruct the central dome, which had been demolished before intervention by the civic authorities.

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