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RyPN Briefs January 18, 2007
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World Heritage Site Crumbling

It is a World Heritage Site. And when it was listed in 2004, amid much fanfare, the Central Railway promised the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) that they would take care of it.

Two years on, the wooden beams in the front porch of the 118-year-old Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) have been so damaged by leakage that conservation architects say they fear for the framework - and the 35 lakh commuters that pass under it every day.

"The decomposing wood could put the entire structure at risk as it weakens the main frame," said a reputed conservation architect, requesting anonymity as his contemporaries are likely to be involved in the conservation.

Added Tasneem Mehta, convenor of the Mumbai chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage: "Since we're responsible for monitoring this site for UNESCO, we've been regularly telling the railways that proper procedures are not being followed and that they need to appoint a qualified conservation architect for its upkeep. But their approach has always been careless. We're now planning to take up this issue with UNESCO."

The Central Railway, which owns the property, has finally woken up to the danger and Chief Public Relations Officer Sunil Jain says tenders for long-term restoration of the station will be floated by October-end. But he admits that the work will take at least 11 months.

In the city's humid climate, with at least one more monsoon to go before the tentative deadline, that's almost certainly not good news for either the terminus or the commuters who pass through it every day, but Jain doesn't agree.

"CST has been very well maintained by us," he insisted. "If there are any problems, they are immediately sorted out on a priority basis and this has been a continuous process. We also assigned the heritage wing of Architecture Conservation Cell (ACC) as consultants in 1997 and have been following their recommendations." Pressed further, he admitted that the upcoming work would be the first "long-term" restoration.

"We have been doing spot repairs," Jain argued. "And now we will start long-term conservation work in a month. We will begin with a tender worth Rs 2.7 crore for the first phase." The works to be taken up include treatment for the roof and fixing of leakages and plumbing and will begin by Diwali, added Divisional Railway Manager R.S. Virdi, directly responsible under UNESCO rules for the management and day-to-day maintenance of the property.

Meanwhile, the entry porch to the the Star Chamber, continues to crumble.