Whitefield heritage church, residences under road widening radar

A TDR notice was handed over by a BBMP employee at the gate to the Whitefield Memorial Church in May. See copy of notice given to Memorial Church. Similar notices have been given to all residences/commercial establishments along the Whitefield-Varthur main road.

whitefiled church

Exterior view of the Whitefield Memorial Church. Pic courtesy: Krupa Rajangam.

Members of the Church of Church of South India (CSI) congregation and The Anglican Church of India congregation are appalled at this contemplated action of the BBMP. With respect to all Christian denominations, his Highness Wodeyar IX gifted three-quarters of an acre to build an inter-denominational church in the early 1880’s .The church was constructed with funds raised by the Eurasian community and the church was consecrated in 1886 by the Anglican priest of St. John’s, Bangalore.

Whitefiled church interiors

View of church interior looking towards the altar – the whole altar and rear wall including the reredos (the sacred wooden panel at the back set up with church funds in memory of World War I), right up to the first row of windows at either end will be demolished. Pic courtesy: Krupa Rajangam.

Since then, villages grew around the Memorial Church. Since the 50’s the church has been losing its land for the construction of roads or widening of the same, resulting in what little land is left today. Now the Sanctum Sanctorum (Holy of Holies) will be destroyed for the same – road widening. Furthermore, this 124-year old church is built of unbaked bricks and chunam/mud compound wall. The demolition of even a small section is enough to bring down the entire structure. Today it is the oldest heritage building left in Whitefield.

"Signal-free to where? If the signal free corridor starts at Vellara Junction, Richmond Road and ends at Hope Farm, Whitefield, what happens before Vellara Junction and after Hope Farm?

Road widening is not the solution. This will benefit only corrupt officials, politicians and contractors. What is needed is proper traffic management, and strict rules to enforce lane discipline. Only this will prevent the frequent traffic jams and ease congestion on Bangalore’s roads."

Glen Lunel, a resident.

All residents and commercial establishments/shop owners are opposed to this. Margaret Lunel, a resident of Whitefield since 1973 and with family settled here since 1956, is upset at BBMP’s plan, "I am disgusted at the disregard the BBMP has for sentiments of the residents, shopkeepers and minorities and the fact that this is a heritage village."

Residents are not really convinced that this road needs to be widened at all. Dr Thyagaraj who runs Pushpa Nursing Home will lose the entire frontage of his Nursing Home, including reception area and waiting room. He had a similar experience about two years ago when a file-toting official accompanied by a posse of policemen and an earthmover, demolished his compound wall with no prior intimation, and later said it was a "mistake". He had to re-build the wall at his own expense.

"For whose benefit is the road being widened? Certainly not for the residents of Whitefield. And, why should the locals lose their properties and livelihood so that someone else can have a "signal-free" ride?"

Sydney Smith, long time Whitefield resident, ex-President of the Whitefield Club and Secretary of the Memorial Church (Anglican)

Dr Meer who has his medical practice here, will lose his clinic and as well as several shops belonging to his family. They have been residents of Whitefield for generations, and own Meer Sahib General Stores, the oldest store in Whitefield. He questions, "When the PPR (Periperhal Ring) road is being constructed about 1 km beyond Whitefield, where is the need to widen the Whitefield Main Road which is used mainly by residents?". T C Alexander, an active member of the CSI community also agrees. Adds Anil Kothari, the owner of Uttam Jewellers & Uttam Enterprises, "There is never any heavy traffic on this road, so where is the need to de-congest?"

Sattelite image of Whitefiled

Old settlement at Whitefield with circular plan clearly visible (Google image 2009). The central circle in green dashed line is the original village green; outer circle in green dashed line is the original circular settlement. Black line is existing Whitefield Main Road. Red lines – proposed widening on either side. Red dotted circle shows memorial church and club premises – which will be partly demolished as per the road widening plans. Illustration: Krupa Rajangam

Shopkeepers are worried about their businesses. Siraj Ahmed Sharif, the owner Tip Top Traders and several other shops says, "What will shopkeepers and their families do after all the shops are demolished? Beg?"

Judy Lawrence, another resident is spending sleepless nights. "It’s like awaiting a terrorist attack… We do not know when they will strike and demolish our properties."

A similar situation arose a few years ago on Borewell Road, when a JCB with number plates removed, accompanied by an engineer and a gang of about 50, demolished all the compound walls in the name of road-widening. When confronted, the engineer blatantly replied "We are government… we can do what we want."

Church sketch-are to be demolished

Sketch of Whitefield Memorial Church. The portion to the left of the red dashed line is to be demolished. Courtesy: Krupa Rajangam.

Shirley Davis, a senior citizen says her entire house, which is about 100 years old, will be demolished, "Even if I get land to re-build, as a retired senior citizen I do not have the resources or the energy to do so."

Expert commentary

Whitefield is one of many areas that will be affected by the proposed (indiscriminate) road widening works to be undertaken right across Bangalore. Given the number of (historic) areas in peril, Whitefield may or may not figure high on the priority list of areas whose very character is under threat but I feel it should be.

As generally assumed, it is not a modern day development. The site of a unique Anglo-Indian settlement developed in 1882, the proposed road widening works impact the original village, with its unique circular layout but also result in partial demolition of the historic Memorial Church and Whitefield Club premises (originally the Church Institute and Library).

Further, a number of bungalows (modeled after those in the Cantonment and very similar to them) and plots will lose their frontage, while the small independent shops which service the settlement will cease to exist.

I first visited Whitefield two years ago. The inner and outer circles (of Whitefield) took me by surprise as not only did it look different from other heritage precincts we found it also appeared to have been largely forgotten by time.

However, this impression didn’t last long! All too soon I heard from residents about proposals to bifurcate the central circle into two and give one half over to commercial development, road widening proposals threatening the church and bungalow plots.

Feeling a sense of urgency to do something, I applied for and secured funding through The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) to trace the settlement’s history, document its layout and some of the important structures within.

My six month research project turned up some interesting and important facts. Whitefield is an Anglo-Indian settlement developed in 1882 and so called after D S White, the founder of the Anglo-Indian Association, who was instrumental in creating this little ‘peaceful’ enclave. It was supposed to be and still is a unique experiment in town planning and has its roots in ideas proposed by Plato in his work, ‘The Republic’. Thus, it was planned to be a self-sufficient village, where ‘all would work towards the common good …’

Moreover, during my interactions with the local community, over the research period, I felt that they were truly aware of their past and the need to carry it forward for the benefit of future generations.

Finally, as there is no heritage legislation in Bangalore, there is no legal protection for all the historical areas to be affected by road widening, so it is up to citizens to make an effort to voice our concerns. It seems quite clear to me that the residents are not against development but rather against unplanned, indiscriminate works in the name of development.

Krupa Rajangam is a Heritage Conservation Consultant and Principal at Saythu.

13 Comments

  1. “Many cities in the West have relocated historical towns, homes, etc. ”
    Suggesting that something is the right thing to do because it was done in the West, is sad state of mind.
    Whitefield and its history is part of Indian History and ought to be preserved as a Historical Marker – no matter whether you can appreciate the role such settlements played in the development of B’lore or not. B’lore’s history is tied to the English Government and Anglo-Indian population of the 20th century and Whitefield is a unique, planned community that bears witness to those days of the past.
    Relocation would destroy its spirit. Relocate the road instead — a lot easier since thankfully so far it exists only on paper.

  2. Mr.Pramod Naik should not give ideas which do not work in India. By this mindless road widening programme , 300 Middle class families in an apartment complex will be seriously affected that includes me. Like that lakhs of people lose their hard earned properties in their concerned roads. None of these roads need widening and there are alternate avenues to solve the traffic problems. Is he aware of this seriousness while passing unwarranted comments? I suggest, let him contact Save Bengaluru Committee and Environmental Safety Group consisting of very senior and reputed Citizens of Bangalore and understand what they have to say about this subject.
    It is not a personal tirade or off the cuff remark on what Mr.Naik has written. It pains senior citizens like me that Govt, BBMP and people like Mr.Naik are not alive to the situation and are bent on demolishing others’ properties and livelihood for their own personal benefits through Govt/Contractor Mafia.
    We can rename the projects as “Pocket Widening and Filling Programme”. We are heading towards anarchy by the Govt through Mining scam and now Road widening Scam. At this rate You may not be able to find Bangalore ,which was a Pensioners’ Paradise once upon a time.

  3. I fully agree with Mr.Viswas . Mr Pramod’s house must be far away from any road widening project and his views reflect his mind. I am sure he does not have even an iota of engineering knowledge about shifting our heritage structures as compared to those in the west. Our age old constructions do not allow shifting as they are built up with stones and special cementing materials which have withstood all vagaries of weather. Whereas our modern concrete jungles show cracks within a very short time. What are modern solutions…demolishing others’ properties, give peanuts as compensation ? and that too when alternate solutions are available to meet traffic congestion. CM has time only to protect himself and save mining lords who are looting our mineral wealth. Enough of pragmatic thoughts from Mr.Naik.

  4. Get serious. Taj or Vidhana Soudha are not in the way of road widening plans nor is there an immediate need to relocate them to a convenient location (to ease Whitefield traffic congestion).

  5. Very sad. BBMP needs discretion and adult supervision in making road widening plans around such heritage structures. The Google earth map shows that there was a plan and a design to this area rather than a haphazard building of structures. It is one thing to suggest relocation of a religious structure that was deliberately put up overnight to encroach a piece of land or to prevent widening of a road; and it is another thing to destroy a historical structure of beauty.

    I wonder what the defendants of pragmatic thinking and modernization will say to a proposal to move and relocate the Taj or the Parliament house or our Vidhan Soudha to a more convenient location.

  6. Must be nice to sit back and think about old Bangalore always and dwell in that la-la land. We must think of pragmatic and modern solutions. If we must, the temples, mosques and churches ought to be moved. I’m sure the Gods won’t mind if it means a little more convenience for their devotees who drive cars. Let’s think of solutions and not just harp on some paradise of the past. Will CM be able to organize a think-tank on heritage structures in the city?

  7. The heritage homes built in our soil cannot be shifted to any other place due to the way they are constructed. Can you shift even one temple and build it elsewhere ? People should learn to respect feelings of other religions and their heritage.
    Those who do not know the technology should not pass comments and more so if they are not affected by the mad projects of BBMP.

  8. Those heritage homes can be relocated to another place within Whitefield. It’s expensive and difficult to maintain old homes and churches. Many cities in the West have relocated historical towns, homes, etc. in order to facilitate development of urban areas. Increasingly, in Bangalore, we can’t have it both ways.

  9. It is heartrending to read the article and the extensive damage done to a century old religious institution and the anglo indian settlement around it . This is how the present Govt and its agencies look at peace loving and defenceless public. It is a shame on our judiciary that the various PILs have been mercilessly shot down instead of protecting the tax paying public. Bengaluru was ” Pensioners’ Paradise ” once and senior citizens like me opted for a simple peaceful and comfortable living at their fag end of life.The Politician-Realtor/Contractor nexus to make tons of money through road widening is the real cause for demolition of Bengaluru. What is the need for such a massive destruction of a city built over years with its plush greenery ? Simple scientific studies and disciplined traffic is sufficient to make the city worth living without snatching the properties of the public. It is time every citizen wakes up and puts up a joint fight against the Govt.in their money making spree. I appeal to the judiciary to be responsive to the suffering public instead of towing the line of the one track minded Govt.

  10. Really sad at this callous treatment to heritage in our city. I sincerely hope that a heritage legislation is put in place that keeps the BBMP and other govt agencies in check.

    When will the governance realise that land is not just measured in terms of just ‘rate per square feet’?

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