Crawford Market is more than just an old bazaar. There is so much life in the architecture. The V-shaped building features a central hall, roomy gateways, a soaring clock tower, a weathervane and two fountains. Kurla stone holds up arches made with stone from Porbunder and Bassein while a network of iron frames and columns supports the 50-ft-high roof, illuminating the enclosed market with natural light.
Now, as it faces the destruction of the building we notice at the entrance, a stone water fountain, now defunct and painted over in garish colours. Another repainted stone fountain, in the outdoor courtyard depicts Indian river goddesses and creatures as diverse as a camel, sea-horse, crocodile and ram. Sculpted by John Lockwood Kipling, Rudyard Kipling’s father and sculpture professor at the nearby JJ School of Art, the fountain is aesthetically and culturally significant enough to warrant a separate entry in Mumbai’s list of heritage sites. Lockwood Kipling’s other contribution to the market are the bas relief sculptures depicting Indian peasants, which adorn the arches at the entrance.
We know that Crawford Market is filthy, it’s disorganised, it’s in danger of falling to pieces and it needs to be saved. But more than rats, old age or general chaos, what it needs to be saved from is greed. Over 22,000 sq mts of public land will be transferred lock, livestock and basil to a construction firm that will build three malls that will tower over the old market building. The so-called redevelopment plan will destroy the architectural integrity of our most significant heritage precincts and, citizens’ groups allege, earn the construction firm a massive profit that should rightfully accrue to the city.
Here’s what happens now: the proposal must be passed by the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee before it gets to the municipal commissioner Jairaj Phatak. But even if the committee does not approve of the proposal, Phatak could pass it, so long as he states valid reasons. The proposal also has to be cleared by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, and by the Traffic Police. Once these permissions come in, Maharashtra’s Urban Development Department could still stay it or even reject it, if it is satisfied that it is in the public interest to do so. If everybody passes it, a public interest litigation can then be filed as a last recourse.
Meanwhile, a corporator can ask – again – for the proposal to be reopened three months from March 10, when it was last brought up in the house. You can call your corporator and harangue him to explain why he supported this proposal, or convince him to reconsider it. You can also call the leaders of political parties in the BMC and demand answers for why they are insisting on going ahead with the project. You can inform the municipal commissioner of your views. You can also call or write to the chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, who heads the Urban Development Department.
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