Can amended Zonal Regulations protect heritage in Bengaluru?

Bengaluru has lost many of its heritage sites to rapid urbanisation. Last month, state government amended Zonal Regulations so as to identify and preserve a wide range of heritage sites.

Even as it was grappling with increasing COVID-19 cases, on April 21, the Karnataka government swiftly notified the Zonal Regulations (Amendment), 2020 (ZRA). The new regulations are aimed at conserving heritage sites, buildings, precincts and natural features. They will apply to Zonal Regulations/Master Plans of all local planning areas in the state, including Bengaluru.

ZRA specifies rules for identifying and preserving the state’s heritage, and conservationists, by large, have welcomed it. With ZRA, Bengaluru would have a dedicated authority to identify and protect a wide range of heritage sites including natural features. However, there are concerns about the composition of this authority.

Following are some key provisions of the ZRA.

Identifying what counts as heritage

Under ZRA, every district would have a Heritage Conservation Committee (HCC) that will put together a list of heritage structures/sites in the district from time to time, and grade them according to their heritage value. The listing will be based on the value of the structure/site in terms of:

  • architectural, historical or cultural reasons
  • date, period, design or its unique use
  • socio-economic relevance
  • association with well-known persons or events
  • sociological interest or community value
  • representation of technological development
  • natural or scenic beauty, etc.

Before listing the sites, HCC should notify the same in two local language newspapers, inviting objections and suggestions from those who are likely to be affected by it. Government may also supplement the heritage list from time to time.

But in Bengaluru, ZRA specifies, the Bangalore Urban Arts Commission (BUAC) will take on the role of the HCC. BUAC had been constituted under the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) Act, but wound up as far back as 2002.

Preservation of sites based on grading

As per ZRA, heritage structures and sites will be graded into three, based on their importance:

  • Grade I – those of national/historical importance
  • Grade II – those of regional/local importance
  • Grade III – buildings/precincts of important townscapes

The level of protection accorded to each site, and the scope for modification, will be based on its grading.

Scope for changesMinimal, essential interventions allowed, only for strengthening the life of the structure.(i) Internal changes and adaptive  reuse  allowed generally, but external changes subject to scrutiny. All special aspects to be conserved.

(ii) Extension/ additional buildings allowed in the  same  compound in    certain circumstances, but only if they are in harmony with the heritage structure.
(i) External and internal changes and adaptive reuse are generally allowed. Extensions should be in harmony with the structure.

(ii) Reconstruction allowed  if  the building is structurally weak, among other reasons. But unless absolutely essential, nothing that spoils the structure’s special features will be allowed.
Permission for changesTo be given by Local Planning Authority on the advice of HCCTo be given by Planning Authority in consultation with a sub- committee formed under HCCTo be given by Planning Authority as per guidelines laid down by government in consultation with HCC

While the HCC/BUAC will advise the local planning authority on allowing repairs or modifications to a heritage structure, the final written approval is given by the local authority. Objections are supposed to be invited from citizens through newspaper advertisements as well, before changes are made.

Following are some other provisions of the ZRA:

  • Local planning authority can regulate developments around the heritage structure such that they don’t mar the grandeur of the structure. Widening of existing roads under Master Plan or KTCP Act can’t be done in a way that affects heritage structures/natural features.
  • Heritage buildings and precincts under the control of any government organisation (Universities, Boards, etc) will be enlisted as heritage properties.
  • In case of heritage structures owned privately, the owners will be fully responsible for carrying out repairs and maintenance at their own cost. The owner can use the property for commercial or office purposes, but without diminishing the heritage value of the property.
  • A separate repair fund for heritage structures will be created through government grants, local authorities or public contributions. Local authority can use these funds on the advice of the HCC.

Why conservationists are worried

Given that HCC makes decisions on identifying and preserving heritage, conservationists are worried about the high representation of bureaucrats in the committee. HCC will be led by the Deputy Commissioner of the district, and will comprise ex-officio members from the Archaeology Department, Town and Country Planning Department of the city corporation, Urban Development Authority of the city, Tourism Department, Commissioner of the city corporation, and so on. It would also comprise experts such as a structural engineer, architect, environmentalist, historian and so on.

But conservationists point out that the HCC simply doesn’t have enough representation of those who have worked on heritage conservation. Only one government-supported trust – Indian Heritage City Network (IHCN) – has been given a permanent seat in the HCC, besides two seats for NGOs.

Sathya Prakash Varanashi, a city-based architect who was also former Convenor of the non-profit INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage), says, “There is Karnataka Itihasa Academy, there is INTACH, researchers in Kannada culture, and many NGOs who have independently contributed to heritage conservation. But not one has been given direct representation.”

Instead of the current composition, Varanashi says, HCC must have a mixture of ex-officio members, NGO representatives and state-appointed panel of experts – with fixed or rotational tenure – so that those who are sensitive to heritage conservation are heard.

Besides, given BUAC is dysfunctional in Bengaluru, it isn’t clear if the HCC will be set up here. Meera Iyer, Convener of INTACH, asks, “The ZRA states that in Bengaluru, the BUAC will play the role of the HCC. But we no longer have a BUAC. So how will these regulations apply to the city?”

Meera says she had written to the Chief Secretary and the Urban Development Department (UDD) for clarification on whether the BUAC would be revived, or a separate HCC would be set up in Bengaluru. She has not received any response yet. This author too was unable to get clarity on this from senior UDD officials, despite multiple attempts to reach them.

On the identification of heritage sites in Bengaluru, Meera says a list of sites had already been prepared as part of RMP 2031. In a letter to the Chief Secretary and the BDA, INTACH has suggested that the newly-formed committee in Bengaluru use this list instead of preparing a fresh list. Meera says, “But this list has no grading of the heritage sites (as required by ZRA). So we have offered to work on a pro bono basis to grade the sites. We are waiting to hear back from them.”

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