Demolition or restoration of a Grade III heritage structure will no longer require the approval of the Heritage Conservation Committee of Kolkata, which is made of officials of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) and the state government and external experts.
The civic body recently decided to take away the power from the committee in regard to Grade III structures and give it to officials of the KMC.
“The decision was taken to reduce the workload of the committee so it can focus more on assigning grades to structures that are on the long list of heritage structures but are yet to be graded,” said a KMC official.
There are four grades in the Graded List of Heritage Buildings — I, IIA, IIB and III. Grade I structures enjoy the highest protection.
The Graded List states that in the case of a grade III structure, “a plaque depicting the history of the building should be provided. Where the structure is having no architectural importance, demolition of the structure may be allowed”.
KMC sources said the Heritage Conservation Committee was made of three civic officials, two state government officials and four external members. Among the external members are an architect, an artist, an environmentalist and a historian. Besides, there are four invitee members, all of whom are KMC officials.
The committee meets once a month, or twice at the most, officials said.
“If the committee has to decide whether restoration or demolition can be allowed, then it will not have adequate time to assign grades to grade-pending heritage buildings. We have decided to grade all such structures,” said a KMC official.
The director-general of the environment and heritage department of the KMC has been empowered to take the decision to allow reconstruction, demolition or restoration of grade III structures with approval from the municipal commissioner, who is chairperson of the heritage committee.
A heritage enthusiast, however, expressed the fear that the decision could lead to the destruction of many Grade III structures that need to be preserved.
“The rule says a Grade III building can be demolished if it has no architectural importance. Does the KMC have the expertise to decide whether a particular building needs to be preserved or not for its architectural importance? That is for experts to decide. The committee has such expert members,” the person said.
The Heritage Conservation Committee is an advisory body and the KMC’s mayoral council has the authority to reject its recommendations. “The KMC can always overturn decisions of the committee by giving a written explanation. The civic authorities should have stuck to that path instead of divesting the committee of a key responsibility,” said the heritage enthusiast.