B’luru’s Janatha Bazaar heritage site to be demolished? Tenants up in arms against PWD

Tenants believe that the PWD’s demolition move is driven by the prospect of financial gains.
B’luru’s Janatha Bazaar heritage site to be demolished? Tenants up in arms against PWD
B’luru’s Janatha Bazaar heritage site to be demolished? Tenants up in arms against PWD
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Less than six months after the demolition of the historic Krumbiegel Lecture Hall at Lalbagh Botanical Garden, Bengaluru seems to be at the risk of losing yet another heritage building. Joining the list is an 83-year old building that houses Janatha Bazaar on Kempe Gowda Road, which was inaugurated by the Yuvaraja of Mysore in 1935. The building owned by Public Works Department (PWD) was leased to the Karnataka State Cooperative Consumers’ Federation (KSCCF) in 1965. But ever since the contract ended in 2013, things have turned sour for KSCCF.

Post 2013, PWD has reportedly shown no interest in any kind of dialogue with KSCCF on renewing the contract and started issuing notices asking them to vacate the building. “Since the expiry of the contract in 2013 we have been trying to renew it. But the only kind of response we get from the PWD are notices demanding that we vacate the building”, said a KSCCF official. He says that although they have been receiving such notices for the past five years, PWD has started pushing for the vacation in the last six months.

Tin sheets have been put all around the building, cordoning it off from public view and the four main gates leading to it have been closed off. A small gate on the side serves as the only means of access to the building. “At around one in the night, they came and welded huge iron rods to the gates. They have also put up notices outside which say that the building is not safe... Our business has come to an absolute standstill. There are stocks worth almost four crores inside. How will we exhaust this stock if no customers come? The expiry of perishable stock at the provision store will generate huge loses to the cooperative …”, shared Vishwas, a KSCCF employee who has been working at the Janatha Bazaar for the past ten years.

A notice was served asking them to vacate the building by December 1, 2017. It said that the building was deemed unsafe for human occupation and hence it will be demolished and an eight-storied building would be erected at the site. According to the official from KSCCF, no proper evaluation or study was undertaken by the PWD to assess its state. He alleges that the PWD has carried out no maintenance work in the past 15 years and that the whole claim about the building being unsafe was just a ruse to get the staff to vacate the building.

M Lakshminarayan, the Additional Chief Secretary of PWD, however claims that the PWD is currently involved in efforts to restore the building and that the cordoning off was done to secure the area for restoration activities. He also stated that they were unable to perform any maintenance work in the past due to non-cooperation from the Janatha Bazaar tenants. When asked about speculations on the demolition, he replied, “I don’t want to say anything about the demolition now.  We are looking at the possibilities that are available. A final decision will be made only after the elections.”

Another development that has greatly angered the employees was the termination of the water connection to the building, an action that Lakshminarayan says, was taken in view of the restoration activities. This has caused great distress to the staff, especially the women employees in the absence of functional restrooms.

“This is a violation of human rights ….Even the Prime Minister talks about Swachh Bharat and here the same government has stopped water for the toilets. Women’s rights have been compromised”, says Arun Prasad, a social and environmental activist. Arun, in collaboration with CRISP foundation had organised a protest against the demolition which saw the participation of over 150 people, including current and former employees of Janatha Bazaar. “The government itself had listed Janatha Bazaar as a heritage site in the Draft Revised Master Plan 2031. Then how can they destroy it? Town Hall was also constructed in 1935…so tomorrow if it develops cracks will they demolish that also?”, he questions. 

Arun has also started an online petition and plans to approach the Governor once sufficient signatures are secured. His demands include: immediate cancelation of the demolition order; restoration of the water connection and removal of the barricades.

The employees of Janatha Bazaar as well as KSCCF officials maintain that the building is sound enough to last another 25 years without any problems. They believe that the PWD’s demolition move is driven by the prospect of financial gains that the installation of an eight-storied building in such a prime location would earn. 

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