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3531Queen of Hills losing architectural grandeur to modernisation

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  • chandwani01
    Aug 8, 2011
      Queen of Hills losing architectural grandeur to modernisation
      Rakesh Lohumi/TNS

      Shimla, August 7
      Notwithstanding the increasing emphasis on the preservation of heritage, the erstwhile British summer capital continues to lose its built heritage, a symbol of imperial grandeur, which earned it the title of the Queen of Hill Stations.

      Old colonial buildings, which lent a distinct character to the town, have been disappearing one after the other. While a number of structures have been consumed by fire, others have been pulled down to make way for multi-storeyed modern concrete structures.

      Two years ago, over a century-old government building Victoria Palace, near Nigam Vihar, was pulled down to build a spacious office complex to house the PWD.

      The latest casualty is House Number IV in the Brockhurst Estate. The nearly 140-year-old structure was dismantled last month to construct a residence for the Chief Secretary.

      Government agencies assert that the dilapidated building was not a notified heritage structure. It had become inhabitable and was not beyond repair. In fact, with no officer willing to move in, the building has been unoccupied for the past four years.

      However, conservationists feel otherwise. Adviser to the State Chapter of Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) BL Malhans maintains that the structure could have been restored.

      He pointed out that the preservation of "period aesthetics" was the key to heritage conservation. It required a holistic approach and preserving a few notified structures would not help.

      The Tudor style timber-framed structures were the hallmark of the colonial architecture and their gradual disappearance would alter the character of the hill station. It was the first of the structures to come up in the Brockhurst Estate in the 1870s and the other three houses came up later, Malhans said.

      Viplove Thakur, senior Congress leader who was the last occupant of the house, said it was a beautiful house and she never felt that it was unsafe.

      However, Secretary, General Administration, Ajai Bhandari said the building was not on the heritage list and was virtually an abandoned house. The entire process had been carried out as per rules.

      Superintending Engineer, PWD, Naresh Sharma said the new structure would be raised on the lines of the old building in accordance with the plan approved by the Town and Country Planning Department. It was virtually a three-storeyed structure, including the basement, and the new building would have a covered area of 340 sq m, slightly less than that of the dismantled building.

      As such it is not surprising that some structures have come up even in the heritage zone in deviation from the approved plans and all that the government has been doing is to condone the violations and regularise the structures. Preservation of the heritage is the collective responsibility of the people and the government.