While BBMP claims that the clock tower will not be demolished, citizens are not convinced.

Bengalurus heritage Russell Market may face the axe for Smart City planMansoor Ali
news Civic Issues Thursday, July 27, 2017 - 18:19

A mélange of sights, sounds and smells, Bengaluru’s iconic Russell Market is all set for a makeover.

The proposed retrofitting of the market includes redoing the existing front, while the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike plans to demolish the structures at the back and construct a four-storey structure to house commercial establishments.

Entrance to Russell Market

“It is a part of the Smart City plan and the detailed project report has not yet been completed for the revamp,” said BBMP Executive Engineer and Smart City project in-charge, Basavaraj Kabade.

But some people fear that the ‘revamp’ is a ruse to destroy more heritage buildings. Architect and administrator of the Facebook page, Bangalore-Photos of a Bygone Era, Mansoor Ali fears that just like the Murphy Town library, which was razed to make way for the Indira Canteen, one of the city’s oldest markets will also face the axe.

Meat sellers in Russell Market

“They are planning to demolish a 150-year-old Central Clock Tower and construct a high rise to house commercial establishments. The BBMP has to hire conservation specialists before putting out the DPR or any plan. Destroying a heritage market area is unacceptable,” Mansoor Ali told TNM.

However, BBMP has said that they plan to retain the Central Clock Tower and the front of the market, while the structures behind will be demolished.

The Palike plans to construct an underground parking facility in order and create a pedestrian-friendly square.

“In between the St Mary’s Basilica and Russell Market, there is a ground, where the underground parking facility will come up. The roads in Russell market are extremely narrow and the cars which are parked make navigating through the area very difficult. The entire space will be made a pedestrian zone, while vehicles will have to be parked at the underground parking facility,” Engineer Basavaraj Kabade said.

Plans are also on to repair the broken sewage system. The entire market will be divided into separate fruit, vegetable and meat markets. However, the Palike official said that the specifications of the plan will be available only once the DPR is ready.

Tracing the history of Russell Market

Before 1871, when Blackpally (Shivajinagar) came under the purview of the Municipal Corporation of Bangalore, the first settlers in the area, had built a small mud wall around it.

The initial settlers grew paddy and the area was known as Bellakkipally (reference to Pond Herons, birds found near paddy farms). However, after the British set up the Cantonment in Bengaluru, the area came to be known as Blackpally.

Historians have different theories for why the area came to be called so. According to Harini Nagendra of the Azim Premji Foundation, when the British came to Bengaluru, the original inhabitants of the area were people who came from Ginji in Tamil Nadu.

“When the British settled in Bengaluru, the area came to be called Blackpally. One theory is that the British used it as a derogatory term as the original inhabitants were dark skinned. However, another theory is that it was named after John Blakiston, the architect of the then Bangalore Cantonment,” Harini Nagendra added.

According to Mansoor Ali, before Russell Market came up, the area was a huge lake and extended up to the present-day Meenakshi Temple in Shivajinagar.

“After the British settled down in Bengaluru, the Indians who were employed in their households, set up homes in Blackpally. Gradually, small shops came up and in a few years, became a flourishing market. Before the Russell market structure was built, there was an open ground where people sold their wear,” Architect Mansoor Ali told TNM.

The area was packed with people until 1898, when the deadly plague hit Bengaluru. Mansoor Ali says that the entire market area was shut down.

“While most people moved to their native homes, some others moved to areas like Murphy Tows and Frazer Town. It was when the plague hit that areas like Basavanagudi and Malleshwaram were planned by the British and the city expanded,” Mansoor Ali added.

However, in 1927, Municipal Commissioner of Bangalore, TB Russell, decided to build the existing Russell Market structure as the number of vendors had once again gone up.

“This was the area where all sorts of meat, vegetables and fruits were found. During the British era, Russell Market was the only place where exotic fruits and vegetables were sold. English vegetables were also sourced from this market,” Mansoor Ali adds.

Photos were provided by Mansoor Ali