The Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) has sought the opinion of the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee (MHCC) on the repair and restoration of Esplanade Mansion, a heritage structure in south Mumbai which was earlier known as Watson’s Hotel.
The 150-year-old UNESCO-recognised heritage structure has almost been evacuated since the MHADA served eviction notices on tenants to avoid any eventualities given that the building was put in the “most dangerous” list in 2010.
The Grade II-A heritage structure has 193 tenanted units, including law firms, stationery stores, a restaurant and other commercial enterprises besides residential units.
An MHADA official Tuesday said the premises has been almost evacuated and sealed.
Last year, a portion of a balcony had collapsed at least on two occasions, raising fears over the stability of the structure.
A technical expert committee from the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT-B) had recently declared the building unsafe for use.
Citing orders of the Bombay High Court, the Mhada had served evictions notice on tenants of the building.
Some occupants had challenged MHADA’s notices in court.
For 67-year-old Mumtaz Ahmed, the thought of moving away from the mansion was distressing.
Ahmed, a tenant who used to run an outlet in the building, says the structure would have had no issues for at least another 40 years had it been maintained well in the past.
“My father first set up this shop in 1945 and my entire family has a long and deep association with this shop and the building. Sunil Duttji (late actor cum politician) had stayed in this building when he had landed in this city,” said Ahmed while fighting back tears.
For Ahmed, the future looks uncertain as he is forced to relocate.
As per rules, MHADA does not offer alternative accommodation to the owner of commercial premises in a building.
Vinod Ghosalkar, who heads the repair and reconstruction unit of MHADA, Monday visited the building and asked the tenants to follow the court orders.
“Our officers have sealed 104 premises while 64 owners have vacated their premises themselves. We are going to have a meeting to discuss to provide alternative accommodation to the residents of the building,” Ghosalkar told PTI.
Another evacuee Parimal Nagarseth said the internal walls of the mansion and structures are very much safe.
For its part, MHADA has sought the opinion of the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee (MHCC) on the repair and restoration of the Esplanade Mansion.
“We have written to the MHCC apprising them about the IIT-B report. We hope they will scrutinize the report and on the basis of their report, we will file our reply in the Bombay HC, where the matter is pending, the Mhada official said.
The five-floor Esplanade Mansion, formerly known as Watson’s Hotel, was built with cast iron fabricated in England and was enrolled in the list of ‘100 World Endangered Monuments’. The Mansion had hosted the first film screening in the Indian sub-continent in 1896.
Meanwhile, the Bombay High Court Tuesday asked the MHADA to spell out the precautions it proposes to take while bringing down the Esplanade Mansion.