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Fire shield for Presi gate move

The Presidency University gate whose removal from the entrance on College Street triggered a controversy

College Street: Presidency University has told the state information commission that it had to replace the 144-year-old gate at the entrance to the campus on College Street and fell a banyan tree to comply with fire safety norms.

The gate was removed on December 15, 2016, to make way for the construction of a bigger one. It has since been installed at the entrance on PC Sarkar Street.

The banyan tree that was chopped off was more than 100 years old and arching over the gate.

Three former students of Presidency - Ajanta Dey, Maleni B. Guha and Kathakali Jana - had moved the state information commission after their appeal to the registrar under the right to information act to provide "all mandatory letters of permission" for making changes to the heritage structure failed to elicit any response.

The university had at a hearing before the commission on May 10 tabled a reply filed by architect Partha Ranjan Das in response to the queries of the appellants.

Das, a member of the West Bengal Heritage Commission, is Presidency's principal consultant architect.

Vice-chancellor Anuradha Lohia had forwarded the queries under the right to information act to Das for his opinions

The appellants had sought to know: "Is it a fact that the West Bengal Trees (protection and conservation in non-forest areas) Act 2006 protects and prevents felling of trees... existed/exists on the Presidency campus?"

The trio also questioned the demolition of the steps adjoining the portico of the main building.

Das's reply on the felling of trees: "West Bengal Fire and Emergency Services rules are applicable to all educational institutions. It states that 6-m wide gates are essential for entry and exit of fire tenders. Therefore, existing gates may have to be widened to conform to the Fire Services laws. Such widening of gates may require removal of trees and other impediments. It has to be ensured that no roots of existing trees should affect the widening of the entrance gate."

The reply on the demolition of steps: "The current central government rules may require barrier-free access for physically challenged persons. Some existing features at entry points may have to be altered to create ramps for this purpose."

"Many heritage buildings undergo changes to be modernised and to embrace technology. I can send you photos of 100 projects in Europe where extensive additions and alterations are made to heritage structures to make them workable," Das told Metro late on Sunday.

Appellant Jana said: "The reply does not mention whether there has been a violation of the West Bengal Trees (protection and conservation in non-forest areas) Act 2006. We will raise the question at the next hearing, scheduled for May 31."

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