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Heritage downgrade cited in demolition

Architects and conservation activists question civic sanction, CMC cites court permission to change status

Our Bureau   |   Published 01.03.18, 12:00 AM

The building that housed the old Kenilworth Hotel, near the crossing of Middleton Street and Little Russel Street, being demolished on Wednesday. (Anup Bhattacharya)

Middleton Street: The Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) has downgraded the heritage status of the building that housed the old Kenilworth Hotel to Grade III, enabling its demolition by the present owners.

Workers started breaking down the three-storey white landmark near the crossing of Middleton Street and Little Russel Street a few days ago, triggering allegations by heritage conservation activists about a builder-official nexus.

The CMC said the heritage downgrade of the building happened last year in accordance with law.

Amar Nath Shroff, the chairman of Alcove Realty that is co-promoting Calcutta's tallest building, The 42, said his company had not done anything outside law. "Even after it was put in Grade III (on the heritage list), we were told to inform the CMC before pulling down the building. Accordingly, we did so but the CMC then asked us not to go ahead with the demolition as they wanted to seek legal opinion," he said. "After seeking legal opinion, the CMC allowed us to go ahead with the demolition and we started the work."

The building had been bought by the consortium of real estate developers promoting The 42 and was being used as its marketing office until recently.

The old Kenilworth Hotel was the "second oldest hotel in the city after Oberoi Grand", according to a statement issued by Calcutta Architectural Legacies (CAL), a citizens' initiative to create consciousness about architectural inheritance.

The real estate consortium said they had owned the building for a decade. Sources said it had long ceased to be a hotel.

The Graded List of Heritage Buildings, published by the CMC in 2009, mentions the old Kenilworth Hotel as a Grade IIA heritage building under the category "recreational". It states that no external change is permissible on a Grade IIA building, a restriction also applicable to Grade I structures.

But a Grade III building can be pulled down, leaving "a plaque depicting the history of the building".

Author Amit Chaudhuri called the downgrading by the heritage conservation committee "strange".

"This is against the ethics and norms of heritage lacks public accountability. It raises questions about the working of the committee," said Chaudhuri, who formed CAL.

Chaudhuri said public heritage was being destroyed without giving any reason. "Grade IIA is very important because there is only Grade I above it. How can a committee decide to downgrade such a building?"

Subrata Seal, director-general of the CMC's project management unit, said: "It is not an architectural masterpiece that ought to be preserved.... Calcutta High Court has given the CMC the liberty to review the gradation".

Section 425 (O) of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation Act, 1980, states that if the civic body decides that "any heritage building has ceased to be of public interest or has lost its importance for any reason whatsoever, it may, with the approval of the state government, declare that such heritage building has ceased to be a heritage building".

The Kolkata Architecture Foundation intends to file an RTI petition on Friday seeking to know why the heritage status of the building was downgraded. "We will seek to know on what basis it was done...who were on the committee and which architect gave that presentation, on the basis of which the change was made," architect Abin Chaudhuri said.

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