By Mohan Kayaka
Mysuru, often dubbed as the ‘Heritage City,’ is now burdened with the overused label as the charm of its historical relics, deeply rooted in the princely era of Mysore, faces neglect from local officials and elected representatives.
The once splendid vestiges of the past that stand as testaments to its grand history are now falling prey to indifference, theft and decay. The lamentable state of heritage buildings in the city has become a recurring subject of discussions that merely make headlines in the media, yet falter in translating into concrete efforts to safeguard these cultural treasures for future generations.
Over a decade has passed since the collapse of the 132-year-old Lansdowne Building, located opposite the KSRTC City Bus Stand. Regrettably, the commitment to conserve this historical structure has largely been confined to empty words. Observing the abandoned state of this building prompts a troubling question: Can this dilapidated structure truly belong to the immaculate city of Mysuru?
Regrettably, the building has devolved into a dumping ground, accumulating refuse left by passersby, along with instances of public urination and even the discovery of unidentified bodies. This grim scenario underscores the apathy displayed by both the authorities concerned and the general public.
Reflecting on the tragedy of August 25, 2012, when the ceilings of shops 17 and 18 within the Lansdowne Building collapsed, claiming four lives, it’s evident that discussions on whether to restore the heritage structure or rebuild it have yielded no definitive conclusion over the past eleven years.
State of despair
In the midst of these fervent debates, the gradual erosion of the heritage structures that once symbolised the visionary legacy of the Wadiyars, the former rulers of Mysore, is distressingly evident. The current rulers seem to lack the will to salvage these monuments from fading into obscurity.
The theft of doors and window frames from the building by petty criminals, who see it as an easy source of profit, is particularly disheartening. Despite their historical and antique value, these elements have vanished due to the greed of thieves and the loss remains largely unacknowledged.
While an iron mesh enclosure has been erected at the building’s front to deter unauthorised access (though miscreants have managed to breach it), the rear of the building, accessible via a cement road, has transformed into an unfortunate spot for public urination. Even the presence of nearby shops has not curbed this behaviour, as individuals choose to relieve themselves in stormwater drains.
Least bothered leaders
Following the partial collapse of Lansdowne Building, the then District Minister S.A. Ramdas pledged to rebuild the structure within a year, backed by a release of Rs. 2 crore from the then Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa. Two separate committees, one comprising engineers and the other composed of heritage experts, were formed to study the feasibility of reconstruction or restoration. Unfortunately, amidst the cacophony of debates, the recommendations of both reports have been lost.
A glimmer of hope emerged when the Siddharamaiah-led Government allocated Rs. 6 crore for the building’s reconstruction in 2015. However, the collapse of a portion of the Devaraja Market during its renovation dashed these plans, leaving the fate of Lansdowne Building in limbo, pending a High Court verdict resulting from a plea by some of its tenants.
While the outcome regarding Devaraja Market now appears resolved, with the High Court dismissing the Public Interest Litigation filed by the tenants’ association against the decision to demolish and rebuild, the future of Lansdowne Building remains uncertain.
In the interim, petty thieves continue to take advantage, chipping away at Lansdowne’s heritage value. The structure stands solitary, its legacy fading and no one to mourn its gradual demise.
Constructed in 1892 by Chamaraja Wadiyar X, the Lansdowne Building aimed to provide essential services under one roof for the public’s benefit. Commemorating the visit of Viceroy Lansdowne, a representative of Queen Victoria, the building was named after him. Like Mumbai’s Victoria Terminal, Lansdowne Building was a landmark of Mysore. It’s disheartening that both elected representatives and officers show a lack of commitment to its preservation.