Will Janatha Bazaar be razed?

The government is out to demolish a 83-year-old building that is strong, beautiful and centrally located

Sales people working at Janatha Bazaar on Kempe Gowda Road find it hard to believe the heritage structure could soon be demolished. Many wonder why the government would want to raze a precious piece of heritage.

The blue wraps are already up, and if the government has its way, the 83-year-old building will soon make way for a huge commercial complex. Janatha Bazaar is in the Majestic area, the city’s busiest shopping area, and a short walk from the city railway and bus stations.

The Public Works Department has sent a notice to the Karnataka State Co-operative Consumers Federation, which runs the bazaar, to shut it down. According to the PWD, the building is old and run-down.

That’s not an argument heritage lovers are buying. The building, completed in 1935, is sturdy, and a treasure that needs to be restored and preserved, they say.

Yashaswini S R Sharma, architect, urban historian and author of ‘Bangalore: the Early City, AD 1537–1799’, is among those who says the structure should be preserved in all its glory. “The Asiatic Building, now Janatha Bazaar, is a splendid example of the public architecture pursued in the erstwhile Mysore kingdom. It was built at a cost of Rs 2 lakh in 1935, and no effort seems to have been spared in keeping to the highest standards of construction of the time,” she says.

The bazaar sells a wide range of products, from provisions to liquor to apparel. Prices here are lower than at regular shops.

The building must be preserved for its historical and architectural value, says Yashaswini. Tangible architectural heritage tells the story of the city and gives it a distinctive identity which in turn is connected to the identity of its people, she says. “Missing landmarks are gaps in urban memory that cannot be artificially addressed, and such gaps in the city’s morphology will render its populace rootless,” Yashaswini explains.

She is among the many who feel the government is not doing enough to preserve history and heritage. “We don’t even have a heritage law to protect such structures. Private owners of heritage buildings should, in fact, be incentivised to maintain them. Restoring and re-using historical structures has made for good economics worldwide,” adds Yashaswini.

Heritage buildings such as the Janatha Bazaar are architectural museums that showcase sustainable practices and healthy internal spaces, she says.

Respect heritage, say employees

Chandrika D K, who runs a bag and shoe store, says “We have a regular pool of customers who comprise frequent travellers and people who come here from far-flung areas. We have made so many friends over the years and if this shuts down, we will lose them.”

Gangadhar S, who runs a provision store, says, “I have been here for 35 years. We began with a small rent but we now pay Rs 1 lakh, which is reasonable considering the location. Our business is not as good as it used to be because people now order online. The malls have also eaten into our business. The lack of proper parking space has added to our woes.” 

A T Padmaiah has been working here since the early 1980s. “This is a state-run co-operative society famous across the country. What makes us unique is that the sale and marketing of products don’t involve any middlemen. And there is no cheating either in the pricing or the sales.”

Paramesh, who manages a liquor store, says, “Our business has come down by 30 percent in recent years. Here, we don’t hike prices. We sell only at MRP.”

A piece of history

The building was designed by G H Krumbiegel, and is perhaps the only one documented as being designed by him in Bengaluru. The then prince, Kanteerava Narasimharaja Wadiyar, termed it a ‘magnificent building’ at the inauguration on September 11, 1935.

It housed an insurance company

After the building was completed in 1935, the then prince Narasimharaja Wadiyar gave the building to an insurance firm called the Asiatic Company. He was keen to provide insurance for his ministers and palace employees, according to a historian.

Seven bazaars in Bengaluru

The Karnataka State Co-operative Consumers Federation was established in 1959 with support from the government, which wanted to curb abnormal pricing by private traders. It runs seven Janatha Bazaar in Bengaluru and five outside.

 

Sturdy structure, says expert

The design of Janatha Bazaar incorporates colonial revivalist architecture with a semi-circular arcade, and Tudor four-point arches in the porte-cochére topped by statues of Asiatic lions, according to conservationist Yashaswini S R Sharma. The walls are extremely sturdy, and measure almost two and half feet on the ground floor, and the arches are built true to method, using stone. There isn’t a single crack in the walls. The interiors have great heights and the entry foyer houses a grand double staircase in sturdy teak. Two ornamental spiral staircases are made of cast iron. The pediment itself has a Mysurean influence with elements like the kalasha (cupola). Water seepage is seen but mostly in the false roofing, and that is because of non-maintenance. These minor problems can be easily rectified, says Yashaswini.

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Will Janatha Bazaar be razed?

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