The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Out of currency, in restoration row

Restoration of Currency Building in Dalhousie Square is stalled owing to a tussle between two central government agencies — the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) — according to ASI sources. In February this year, the ASI was getting ready to begin the restoration work on the heritage building. Earlier, the ASI had declared it a building of national importance. The Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) cleared the barricades on the pavements along Currency Building and also the mound of debris accumulated around the partially demolished building. Scaffolding was erected for the restoration work and the façade was partially deplastered. But the work could not continue for the CPWD has steadfastly refused to hand over Currency Building to ASI.

ASI has sent several missives to CPWD but there has been no reaction from the latter’s end. No CPWD senior officer was available for comment. In the meantime, the grand structure in ruins and overgrown with parasites has been exposed to another prolonged monsoon. One wonders how many more such seasons of rains it will be able to weather.

The barricade around Currency Building was erected for public safety five years ago, when the central government engaged a private contractor to demolish the 150-year-old heritage structure. The pavements had turned into a garbage dump and a public urinal. Mayor Subrata Mukherjee sanctioned funds for repairs of the pavements. Governor Viren J. Shah and Union finance minister Yashwant Sinha intervened to allow the Indian National Trust for Architectural and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) to undertake restoration of the building several months ago.

But before they could intervene, the CPWD contractor had demolished the massive central dome. When the contractor’s security men used to be in charge of the partially demolished building much valuable materials like Italian marble, Burma teak and iron chests were smuggled out of the building. According to an estimate by engineers of the municipal architect and town planner’s department, material worth more than Rs 2 crore has been sold secretly from the Currency Building site. The edifice housed the country’s first Reserve Bank, where currency notes were printed. The CPWD had sought to build a new highrise office block there five years ago.

The Calcutta circle of the ASI had 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, the CMC had handed over the building to the ASI as the CPWD had neglected it for long. The typical blue enamel plaques declaring it as a monument of national importance are still there. The key heritage building in BBD Bag East has become an open-air toilet, thanks to prolonged negligence by all concerned. So pedestrians are forced to avoid this stretch of the pavement. Both the Union finance ministry and the CMC have a legal obligation to preserve the building, which was declared a national heritage site by ASI in June 1999, in keeping with the CMC's heritage committee during the tenure of the Left Front board.

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