CST caught between heritage tag and modern facilities

UNESCO’s world heritage site tag comes in way of Mumbai’s iconic railway station becoming a world-class facility; Railways not willing to give up either

geetanjali

Geetanjali Minhas | June 8, 2012




While the railway ministry is keen to develop the iconic Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) in Mumbai into a world-class modern railway station, the Grade I World Heritage Site tag conferred on the 124-year-old building by the UNESCO in 2004 is threatening to pull brakes on the plans. The international organisation’s certification and demarcation of buffer zone (no development area around the structure) has jammed the railway board’s development plans since 2009.

The bustling CST terminus handles one lakh passengers travelling on 60 long distance trains on its main line. Another 10 lakh commute on 1,164 suburban trains through its central and harbour lines. Of its 18 platforms, seven are used for suburban and 11 for long distance trains. Overcrowding, inhospitable environment, inadequate entries and exits and car parking are chronic problems here. Necessitated by passenger overload, the ministry’s redo plans to create a world-class station along the lines of St Lazare station in Paris were challenged by the station’s heritage.

The Railways has vacant chunks of 32.6 hectares, including heritage buildings, yard and platforms, and 9.6 hectares north of heritage building on Carnac Bunder side. It is this vacant land that is proposed to be utilized to upgrade the station. The Railways wants the development ban to be limited to the far end of King George Hospital on Carnac Bunder Road in east and administrative building in the west. On the south side of heritage building, the railway land is barely 50 metres and rest is privately owned. The decision is now pending with the technical committee of UNESCO.

The ministry has no funds of its own for the makeover. But if the vacant land is commercially exploited through a public partnership (PPP) model, it can fund the upgradation of the station which is expected to cost Rs 2,000 crore, according to the techno-feasibility report prepared by the consultants, Arep Ville, a subsidiary of French National Railway.

The master plan, approved by the railway board, envisages that the upgradation of CST would reduce headway time (time taken by a train on platform before another train comes on same track) from 4.5 minutes to 3 minutes. Drawing lessons from the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, the master plan includes heightened security measures and evacuation at times of emergency on the station. Also proposed is a taxi bay for the counter-magnetic station on the D’Mello Road side.

Subodh Jain, General Manager, Central Railway, says: “UNESCO has declared the entire railway land at CST as buffer zone, but the heritage building is not even visible beyond 200 metres on D’Mello Road side. Keeping that in mind, we have assured UNESCO that while we are in sync with it, we need rationalisation of buffer zone to help us develop a world-class station for passengers. Otherwise, the heritage building will slowly deteriorate.”

To function as a multi-mode hub, the CST will have underground connectivity with upcoming underground metro station passing through DN Road on the west. Commuters will be able to alight at CST and take the elevator going 20 feet underground to connect with the metro station and vice versa, Jain says.

On the eastern, D’Mello Road side, the main line (outbound trains) station will be connected to all suburban platforms, Hancock Bridge and the planned underground metro, providing link with eastern and western express ways, suburban and long distance trains, bus stand and taxi parking. The reservation counter building and other new buildings will be broken down to provide free passage, and the heritage building will be restored to its original glory.

If the plan materializes, the Gothic style architectural landmark in Italian marble and Burma teak, will be first world-class railway station in the country, according to Jain. Work on the project will take place in phases and entire project will be completed in 6-7 years. Basic facilities such as a taxi bay and pedestrian plazas would be provided in the first three years itself.

Considering the CST’s heritage, the brand must be maintained, but to develop the character and environment of the area, rationalization of buffer zone is important, Jain argues. A few days ago, the central government made a presentation to Archaeological Survey of India justifying the reduction of buffer area.

“If we do not develop the area, it will cause more damage to heritage building. Unless we provide proper infrastructure and make the counter-magnetic station on D Mello Road side, the taxis will have to keep coming on the side of heritage area. We cannot do beautify the heritage area and the building will slowly decay,” he says.

But there is considerable opposition to the Railways’ plans. The Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee has raised apprehensions against relaxation of buffer zone. For the Railways, it is a dilemma. In case the world body refuses to relax the buffer zone and the ministry refuses to budge, the CST will lose its world heritage tag and bring in negative publicity for railways. For the tourism industry, losing the iconic tag is a concern, as it affects their business.

“If the situation persists, railways will not resist the move. Instead, a conscious decision has been taken not to give up the world heritage tag and develop Lokmanya Tilak Terminus (LTT) at Kurla,” says Jain.

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