March to save architectural heritage
Calcutta: A large crowd gathered outside Subodh Mallik Square on Wednesday, World Heritage Day, braving the afternoon heat, to take part in a march protesting the mindless and massive demolition of the city's architectural heritage.
The march, organised by CAL, INTACH and PUBLIC, three organisations engaged in protecting the environment of the city, both built and natural, ended at the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) office, where the mayor, whom the protesters wanted to meet, remained invisible.
Writer Amit Chaudhuri read from the letter, signed by eminent citizens, that was to be submitted to the CMC. He started CAL (Calcutta Architectural Legacies) to talk about the city's architectural heritage, which is not necessarily about landmark buildings.
The protesters included filmmaker Aparna Sen, Jawhar Sircar, chairman, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Supriya Chaudhuri, professor emeritus, Jadavpur University, artist Chittrovanu Majumdar and writer Kalyan Ray, as well as G.M. Kapoor of INTACH, Pradip Kakkar of PUBLIC and conservation architect Manish Chakraborty.
Participants held placards that said Calcutta should not turn into a city of malls; neither should its heritage be on sale.
Aparna Sen said that like people, an old city also has a face. If this face is struck at continuously, it becomes disfigured, unrecognisable.
Amit Chaudhuri said the letter mentioned three broad points that needed to be discussed with the CMC
• The delisting of buildings on the CMC's heritage list should be stopped immediately
• Documentation of buildings that require preservation
• Authentication of the incomplete heritage list that the city has and putting together a plan that will create heritage precincts, so that Calcutta's unique neighbourhoods do not disappear in the name of development.
"This is perhaps the first citizens' march on heritage in the city," Amit Chaudhuri said.
Many voices emerged, including those of other citizens' initiatives. Swarnali Chattopadhyay of Purono Kolkatar Golpo, a Facebook group with 40,000 followers, spoke about how the group's timely intervention has at least temporarily put a stop to the demolition of Metropolitan Institution, the school attended by Vidyasagar.
Pointing at the casual way in which the city's old buildings are being demolished, a former member of the CMC heritage committee said that an architect of a highrise that has led to the demolition of an old heritage hotel is part of the CMC heritage committee.
The march ended in an unexpected way. The protesters were stopped from meeting the mayor and the municipal commissioner inside the corporation building by the police, though the letter was accepted.