The establishment of the modern city of Bengaluru can be traced back to Kempe Gowda and Kempe Gowda II in the 15th century but, regrettably, there has been little effort to preserve the city's heritage. Some monuments and buildings have luckily survived the ravages of time, despite official neglect, thanks to the slow pace of 'development' until the late 1990s. Many more have been destroyed or have disappeared in the building boom since then, leaving Bengalureans with little history to showcase and be proud of. In this context, the Bangalore Development Authority's (BDA) proposal to stop all construction activity in the vicinity of 191 sites declared as 'protected heritage' is welcome. The BDA has so far indentified 558 government and privately-owned buildings for preservation as part of its Revised Master Plan 2031. In the first phase, it wants to protect 191 heritage sites located in the central business district (CBD).
Scraps of history suggest that the Ganga, Chola and Hoysala dynasties ruled over this land starting circa 890, but no visible evidence is left of those periods, except for some stone inscriptions. That Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan briefly held sway in the 1700s is at least represented by the iconic Lal Bagh and Tipu Sultan's Summer Palace. The British Raj, which alternated control over the city with the Maharajas of Mysore for nearly 150 years, has left its vestiges in the form of Cubbon Park, several statues and roads named after some of its distinguished men, especially in the Cantonment area. The Maharajas have left their imprint on planned layouts, boulevards, lakes, water and drainage systems and, of course, the Bangalore Palace. The Urban Arts Commission, a non-profit body under former chief secretary TP Issar had put together a list of 747 heritage sites in 2002, but what BDA has embarked on is the first official inventory of the city's surviving heritage.
The BDA says that once a heritage building is identified and given that tag, construction work will be prohibited within 100 metres of its boundary, while the contiguous 200 metres will be a regulated area where only an archaeological officer can permit new construction. There is also a plan to create a dozen heritage zones. The CBD is marked by a 27 sq km area in and around Vidhana Soudha and hopefully, the BDA will show enough common sense not to declare Vikas Soudha as a heritage building. There has to be sufficient funding to restore and maintain the old structures, and those that are privately owned need to be adequately compensated. The government should consider tapping corporate social responsibility (CSR) funds to reduce the burden on the state exchequer.