Local residents have blamed CIDCO (City and Industrial Development Corporation) and contractor’s “sloppy maintenance work” for the collapse of part of Belapur Fortress on Saturday in heavy rain and wind.
Since the fort’s restoration project began in 2019, local activists and volunteers have been protesting the way the site is being “rehabilitated”, claiming that it is an attempt to commercialize the monument rather than preserving its historicity.
“The collapsed part was repaired again by the contractor and collapsed itself when it first rained. This is evidence that the work was of cheap quality and done with cement, which is wrong. The construction of such fortresses must be done with lime and jaggery water as a binding agent and not with cement, as it does not bind the hard rock basalt, ”said Shankar Wasmane, a local conservationist who is committed to protecting and maintaining old fortresses.
He said the contractor used cement at the main fort as well. “We urge that action be taken against the responsible contractor and officials from Cidco. the fort has to be restored as before and not developed for commercial purposes, ”demanded Wasmane.
Ajay Barge of Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan, a group of volunteers working to preserve forts, said, “Belapur Fort is the only historical monument in the city. The administration couldn’t keep it. The parts that have been newly built and recently repaired are collapsing. We demand that the fort be handed over to the Archaeological Department for restoration and conservation, ”he said.
Nitin Chavan of the Nationalist Youth Congress (NYC) complained to Minister of Culture Amit Deshmukh and NCP MLA Shashikant Shinde about the “poor quality” of work in the Belapur Fortress in August last year.
In his letter he had stated that under the name Preservation of the Belapur Fortress, the existence of the monument was endangered. He also stated that the work of CIDCO and the contractor was carried out without any expertise in the conservation and preservation of historical monuments. The letter went on to say that permission from the State Archaeological Department had not been obtained.
Following the complaints, Deshmukh took note and instructed the State Archeology Department (SAD) to inspect the monument and provide the necessary technical guidance. In October, the department had suspended work, stating that the site needs to be inspected to verify claims that cement was being used for the restoration.
Tejas Garge, director of SAD, said: “We had kept the project that was being carried out. We did a technical assessment of the work, and after giving them the correct guidelines on how to do the work last week, we issued them a clearance certificate. ”
Now CIDCO has started removing debris from the collapse and scaffolding from the construction site. “The locked scaffolding would be released from the old stone masonry and the probably unsafe part of the stone masonry would be dismantled with the help of two cranes. 25 workers were hired for this purpose. If necessary, the adjoining construction office would be brought to safety in order to avoid mishaps of any kind. All the work will take at least two days, ”said a statement from CIDCO.
The traffic police have also blocked the road and diverted traffic.
Regarding the allegations of inadequate restoration work, CIDCO said: “The restoration work on the existing dilapidated structure is being carried out exclusively with lime. In the past, PCC was made of cement to protect certain parts of the fort wall. According to the advisory monument conservationist, this was done in order to avoid falsifying the facts between the monument structure and the new work. The use of cement was discontinued from October 2020 and all work is now only carried out with lime. “
The wall of the fortress watchtower in front of the NMMC building in the Bekasur district collapsed at 1 p.m. on Saturday.
CIDCO placed a contract for Rs 17 crore to repair and build the fort. The contract for the restoration work was awarded to Sawani Construction in December 2019.
The fortress was built in 1560 by the Abyssinian Sidi rulers of Janjira on the Konkan coast. The Portuguese conquered the area more than a century later. In 1733 it passed to the Marathas when Chimaji Appa, the brother of Bajirao Peshwa, conquered it from the Portuguese. It was with the Marathas until 1817 before it was conquered by the British.
It was planned that the fortress area of 5 hectares would be developed under the responsibility of CIDCO as a tourist attraction as well as an educational and cultural center. CIDCO has entrusted the task to Kimaya Architects, known for their experience in restoring historic sites.