Deepa Peck has been a resident of Whitefield since 1991 and has been visiting it since 1972. In all those years she has seen many of the areas, charming colonial buildings disappear one after the other. In May last year Deepa and her fellow residents were shaken out of their complacency when a Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) notice was served to the 1882-built Whitefield Memorial Church and all residences/commercial establishments along the Whitefield-Varthur main road.
BBMP was planning to widen the road which would have resulted in irreparable damage to the 125 year old church. "The road widening would have claimed about one third of the church building, including the portion where the altar is at present. Not only that, since the building is made of unbaked clay and chuna it is highly likely the entire building might have collapsed".
Due to public outcry the BBMP’s road widening plans were put on hold but residents now looked for some permanent solutions to save these last surviving buildings. "We want to see these buildings declared as heritage buildings so that they are protected from other such developmental activities but we don’t know how to go about it" says Deepa.
Going by a recent precedent in Mysore where writer R K Narayan’s house was declared a heritage building, the solution to saving Whitefield’s heritage buildings might lie in the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act (KTCP) of 1961.
As one of the steps in the direction of preserving these heritage buildings, the state government amended KTCP in 2005 to include definitions of a Heritage Building and of a Heritage precinct. The KTCP now defines a Heritage Building as a building possessing architectural, aesthetic, historic or cultural values. It is declared as a heritage building by the Planning Authority or any other competent authority within whose jurisdiction the building is situated.
According to the Director, Department of Town and Country Planning, H B Mukund though this provision can be used to notify buildings as heritage buildings by planning authorities, such as the BDA, it is very rarely used. "The notification of R K Narayan’s house by Mysore Urban Development Authority (MUDA) is a rare instance of the clause being used. I don’t think there has been any instance of the clause being used in Bangalore" he says.
It’s not just him. The officials at the BDA also don’t remember the clause being used either. BDA’s Town planning Member, B M Tirakangouder says that the BDA consults with the Archaeology department for guidelines during the process of preparing a Master Plan but it does not notify any building as heritage building on its own. "We will declare a building, if the archaeology department recommends that it be declared as a heritage building" he says. Tirakangouder says that much care should be taken before notifying a building as heritage building because it would bring with it many restrictions on development around the building.
According to J V Gayathri, Deputy Director, Department of Archaeology, Museums and Heritage, any building which is over 100 years can be considered as a heritage building. Apart from this any building having historical significance can also be considered a heritage building. In both cases a representation can be made to the department. The department after verifying the claims and looking into the revenue records forwards it to the Department of Kannada and Culture.
The Kannada and Culture department after consultation with planning agency under whose jurisdiction the building comes under puts it up to the state cabinet. On approval of the cabinet, the department will then put out a public notice and call for objections. If no objection is received within a month of this notice then the department will notify the building as a heritage building.
In Bangalore Urban district there are only two sites which the Archaeological Survey of India has designated as heritage monument: The Palace of Tippu Sultan and the Old dungeon, Fort and Gates.
The state archaeological department has designated just 6 sites as heritage monuments: Basaveshwara Temple, Kempe Gowda’s four Watch Towers (Ulsoor, Mekhri Circle, Lalbagh, Gavipuram), Gangadhareshwara Temple (Basavanagudi), the Bowring Institute (on St Marks Road) , Mallikarjuna Temple and Boulder Inscriptions (Basavanagudi) and the Venkataramanaswamy Temple (VV Puram).
Mysore’s heritage conservation committee had identified around 230 buildings as heritage properties. R K Narayan’s house was one of them.
Mysore is one of the six cities identified as heritage areas. Each of them has heritage conservation committees with Deputy Commissioner and the head of the planning authority in it. The other cities are: Srirangapatna, Bidar, Gulbarga, Bijapur and Kittur.
Deepa, who is also a member of Whitefield Settlers’ & Residents Association, says that with this information the association can advise the committees and individuals to approach the Department of Archaeology & Museums to get their buildings registered. Meanwhile she and few others are trying to educate other residents of Whitefield about its history. "There is much more to Whitefield than IT. If people are made aware of its rich history they might be motivated to try and save the surviving buildings for future generations" she says.
Author T P Issar in his book about Bangalore’s architectural heritage, The City Beautiful, says "We must not forget that special buildings, settings and landmarks that are redolent of the past, are an important part of any great city’s image and character. Lose them and you have an agglomeration, a habitat- with all the bustling markets and "sky-kissing towers" rather than a city that has seasoned and has a soul".
The politician and/or bureaucrat has to rise to the level of statesman to do this. With spiralling real estate prices, no chance!