Kochi is failing to hold down its heritage

Rampant violation of rules and unscientific planning are dimming hopes of city’s Unesco heritage status
Fort Kochi is losing its heritage appeal due to the apathy of the officials concerned. Heritage buildings are giving way to unappealing multi-storeyed buildings and many projects lie in limbo
Fort Kochi is losing its heritage appeal due to the apathy of the officials concerned. Heritage buildings are giving way to unappealing multi-storeyed buildings and many projects lie in limboPhoto | Express

KOCHI: The hopes of Fort Kochi making the list of Unesco Heritage Sites are dimming with each passing day. According to tourism industry stakeholders, both Fort Kochi and Mattanchery are losing their historical ambience due to the non-implementation of rules that protect heritage structures. Interestingly, Kochi corporation had tasked its Centre for Heritage, Environment and Development (c-hed) with drafting a heritage bylaw aimed at conserving and preserving the rich legacy of the region. But the initiative, alas, remains on paper.

Fort Kochi is losing its heritage appeal due to the apathy of the officials concerned. Heritage buildings are giving way to unappealing multi-storeyed buildings and many projects lie in limbo
Hunt for heritage! Kochi in fresh push for a Unesco tag

What attracts tourists to Fort Kochi? asks K J Sohan, former mayor of Kochi. “It is the rich heritage: the buildings, cobbled streets, Chinese nets and many structures that tell stories of yore. This place has seen the confluence of many cultures, cuisines and architectural styles. But all that is getting lost due to rampant violation of the rules. And for what? Just to line the pockets of some corrupt official or politician?”

According to rules, when a building is constructed in a heritage zone, it must adhere to certain rules, notes Sohan. “The plan must be approved by Town Planning before it’s finally cleared by the Heritage Commission. This is the process followed by other districts at their heritage sites. But why is such a process not being followed in Fort Kochi? This needs to be looked into,” he points out.

Rules are being bent to satisfy certain people, says Jose Dominic, a tourism expert. “We can’t place the blame solely on private individuals. The state government is also at fault. It should be noted that many of the monstrosities that are coming up in Fort Kochi are buildings being constructed to accommodate government departments. Take for example the five-storied building that is being constructed plumb in the middle of the Fort Kochi Heritage Zone near the Bishop’s House,” he says.

Then there is the Coast Guard building, he adds. “Another example is the much-touted boat jetty of Kochi Water Metro. Improving water transport facilities is called for. This would make it easier for tourists to travel from one point to another. But should it be at the cost of heritage value? What is the need for a modern shopping complex in the prime heritage spot at Fort Kochi? Modern buildings take the sheen off the heritage face of the place,” he says.

As Johann Kuruvilla, founder of the Kochi Heritage Project, says, “Heritage is the one thing that attracts tourists to the place. Once Fort Kochi and Mattanchery lose their heritage charm, the flow of visitors will stop. While countries with a similar climate and history are trying their best to conserve and preserve their heritage, our officials couldn’t care less about our legacy.” Johann highlights the Chinese nets as an example. “I have been seeing the wooden poles procured for the renovation of the nets rotting away for the past five years. Funds had been allocated for the project. But that too has not been utilised,” he adds. Every other day an old building crashes down, he says. “Last month, a 200-year-old building collapsed. But are the authorities bothered? Well, it seems not!” he adds.

Talking about the improper and unscientific implementation of projects by the Cochin Smart Mission Ltd (CSML), Sohan says, “Things like cobbled stones and the cast-iron street lamps are the face of this heritage place. However, as part of beautification, contractors have pulled out the cobbled stones that had been brought in from the Netherlands and Portugal. The destruction of heritage is rampant here. Until and unless the state government sits up and takes notice, Fort Kochi will soon lose its old-world charm.”

Break with rules and history

  • Heritage regulations mentioned in the Kerala Municipality Building Rules are seldom followed

  • For carrying out the construction or demolition of a building, an application has to be submitted by the corporation to the Art and Heritage Commission

  • Many unauthorised buildings are coming up in the area without the permission of the commission

  • In 2023, the Cochin Heritage Zone Conservation Society geotagged 150 sites.

Some of the must-see buildings of Fort Kochi are

  • Vasco House

  • Koder House

  • Old Harbour House

  • David Hall

  • Bastion Bungalow

  • Thakur House

  • Pierce Leslie Bungalow

  • Old Lighthouse Bristow Hotel

  • Delta Study

  • Brunton Boatyard

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