By Kelly Zegers
Bangalore’s 20-year information technology boom has driven significant, rapid expansion, with development gobbling up former suburbs and farmland and new buildings rising everywhere.
But with the shift to the new, some are worried that the city is forgetting its heritage sites, leaving them unprotected.
India is full of traditions still observed, whether it is through food, ceremonies or artifacts in museums, but “We can’t keep old houses in museums,” said Sathya Prakash Varanashi, an architect and convener at The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage.
Heritage organizations and concerned Bangaloreans brought together by social media are trying to raise awareness of sites that show what happened in the city through the years, including bungalows from the British Raj, under which India was a colony from 1858 to 1947, markets, temples and even trees.
INTACH is a nonprofit organization with the goal to “protect and conserve India’s vast natural, built and cultural heritage,” according to its website. The Bangalore chapter includes architects, planners, engineers, writers and others who try to create awareness, mediate between the government and the public, offer architectural and engineering consultation to owners of heritage buildings, and document heritage structures, as its website says.
Money stands in the way of preserving heritage sites. Land values are going up, enticing owners to sell, Varanashi said. Developers can then purchase the land and build on it.
“Developers don’t bother with heritage,” Varanashi said.
History alone can’t fight developers, he said. Support from the government and the people is needed.
Bangalore has recently seen protests at places considered to be heritage sites that were or still are at risk of redevelopment. One such site is Balabrooie, an 1850s guest house in the old British “cantonment,” or garrison area, that the Karnataka state government now owns.
Using Facebook groups, such as Campaign to Save and Preserve Balabrooie and other Heritage assets and Siddaramaiah: Save the Historic Balabrooie Guest House, heritage supporters organized a protest against any changes to the 19th-century bungalow.
Balabrooie has since remained untouched.
Along with money, advocates need government action to get sites recognized and protected. The government will act if the people care, said Varanashi, reflecting an INTACH goal to instill a sense of social responsibility toward preserving a common heritage.
INTACH lacks legal or administrative power, Varanashi said, adding that laws can facilitate preservation if the people speak up. But even with relevant laws, he went on, “ad hoc-ism” and corruption may prevent officials from implementing them.
One such law, The Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act of 1961, which addresses land use and development, has the potential, as of a 2005 amendment, to identify buildings as heritage structures but has rarely been used for that purpose, according to Citizen Matters, a public-interest news website.
The planning act allows the state government to designate “planning areas” for redevelopment, but the act protects historic sites within those areas.
Master plans for development of areas within the jurisdiction of planning authorities “shall indicate ‘Heritage Buildings’ and ‘Heritage Precincts’ and shall include the regulations made therein for conservation of the same.”
Varanashi said that despite these protections, many sites remain at risk.
INTACH attempts to raise awareness of the stakes by conducting heritage, tree and food walks. One such walk goes through the Malleswaram neighborhood to view bungalows, temples and other religious centers such as St. Peter’s Pontifical Seminary.
Since volunteers run the organization, there are limits to what it can do. Its members are managing families, running offices and working other full-time jobs. INTACH cannot run as an office itself because there is no such money for that, he said.
Varanashi used three words to sum up the issue: cost, culture and climate.