A graded heritage structure in north Kolkata is allegedly changing beyond recognition because of repair and modernisation work.
The Belgachhia Villa, near Belgachhia Milk Colony, is a Grade IIA heritage structure, according to the Kolkata Municipal Corporation’s list of graded heritage buildings.
An 1820 structure, it was the garden house of Prince Dwarkanath Tagore who entertained the who’s who of the colonial society in this palatial building. It is also where Michael Madhusudan Dutta’s first play was staged.
The house now belongs to the Singha family, the erstwhile zamindars of Kandi, in Murshidabad, who had bought the house from Dwarkanath.
Sanghamitra Basu, a member of the heritage conservation committee of Kolkata Municipal Corporation, said the KMC had served notice on the owners of Belgachhia Villa in April asking why permission was not sought before starting work. But the work has allegedly continued.
Basu brought this to the notice of the KMC. Inspectors from the corporation visited the site and surveyed the work being done and served a second notice asking for an immediate stop-work.
The site remains off-limits for outsiders.
“It is against the KMC Heritage Act to do any construction work on a graded heritage site without permission from the KMC. This is a punishable offence. Since the people responsible are not following the rules despite repeated notices, the KMC should ensure police presence there and stop work immediately,” said Basu.
According to the KMC Heritage Act, no external changes are permissible to a Grade II heritage structure. New construction may be allowed in the open land within the premises in a compatible manner with the heritage building. The new construction cannot obstruct the view of the heritage building.
The villa was in disrepair for a long time.
The Belgachhia Milk Depot was built on the land of the estate and then slowly all the neighbouring areas turned into godowns and depots.
A portion of the villa reportedly will now be turned into a banquet hall.
A visit to the site revealed that a new block is being constructed.
Physicist Bikash Sinha, of the Singha family, told The Telegraph: “There is a huge history there. I have played in the garden of that house. Today, they are building a banquet hall. There were so many banquet halls in that house during Prince Dwarkanath’s time. Just as Maharshi Debendranath had to sell the property to pay off his father’s debts, today my cousin is being forced to do whatever she is doing to survive.”
If the villa is restored while keeping its heritage value intact, adaptive reuse of an old building is often a way to prevent it from being completely demolished. But for that permission needs to be sought and granted.
Heritage enthusiasts in the city are up in arms. “This is another flagrant violation of the KMC’s heritage rules,” said G.M. Kapur of Intach, Kolkata Chapter.
Belgachhia Villa is witness to the grandeur and pomp that came with the extravagant entertainment of 19th-century Bengali zamindars.
Dwarkanath bought the mansion from an Italian and renovated it at a cost ofRs 2 lakh. The mansion had a sprawling garden around it with a jheel.
After Dwarakanath’s demise in England in 1846, his son Debendranath sold the villa to clear debts left by his father. The erstwhile zamindars of Kandi, the Singha family, bought the villa. Pratap Chandra Singha and Ishwar Chandra Singha built the Belgachhia Natyashala there in 1858 where Sanskrit plays were staged for British guests.