A row of three heritage buildings beside the Chinese fishing nets on the Fort Kochi beachfront, which were relied upon by yesteryear mariners for purposes including storing of coal to power their ships, were demolished on Sunday to make way for building the Water Metro’s boat jetty.
While officials of Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL), which is executing the project, termed it an inevitable move, to make room for a prominent boat jetty of the pioneering project, critics led by writer N.S. Madhavan compared it with the Babri Masjid demolition on another December 6, three decades ago.
“Another demolition on Babri day. Same subtext, wipe clean history. Centuries-old port office and karipura [coal shed] were demolished by Water Metro people. They aim to break the row [of] historic Chinese fishing nets at Fort Kochi, by inserting an ugly jetty. The Metro people will tell you that nothing will happen to Chinese nets. Yes, they are only destroying the view. Imagine putting a JCB in the middle of [a] row of elephants at Trissur Pooram,” read his tweet.
Heritage enthusiast and former Mayor K.J. Sohan compared the demolition of the three heritage buildings with the Taliban extremists blowing up Buddha statues in the Bamiyan valley. “The first building housed the then port office, another a gear shed where ships’ accessories were stored, and the third a coal shed [hence called Karippura] used to store coal meant to power ships that sailed from the Suez Canal to South East Asia. It was after this that an adjacent Chinese net was named ‘Karippura vala’. The Water Metro jetty will also affect a few historic Chinese nets nearby,” he said.
Meanwhile, KMRL Managing Director Alkesh Kumar Sharma said that the agency had taken the land, including where the buildings stood, on lease from the Cochin Port Trust for a 60-year lease. “None of the buildings were notified as protected ones. Rather, they were in a dilapidated condition and were a hub for anti-social elements. We are under pressure from different quarters to complete the Water Metro project in a time-bound manner, and there was undue delay in acquiring land for the Fort Kochi terminal. The Water Metro’s Ernakulam-Fort Kochi route will be commissioned after the Vyttila-Kakkanad route. The dilapidated buildings had to be demolished for the larger purpose of housing a boat jetty,” he clarified.
Mr. Sharma said that care had been taken to lessen the area of berthing space for ferries, and the jetty’s design was revised, to cause least disturbance to Chinese nets. A study conducted by IIT-Madras says that the functioning of the nets will not be affected in any way, since a sleeker design has been adopted. We have assured help to net operators in case there is a need. Moreover, care will be taken to ensure the aesthetics of the jetty building, so that it is in sync with the surroundings, he added.
Former corporation town planning standing committee chairperson Shiny Mathew, who represented the division, said that there was no other alternative land in Fort Kochi to locate the jetty. “The region would have missed Water Metro connectivity had we opposed the location of the jetty building. We have insisted that the proposed building be similar to the heritage buildings that were pulled down. The corporation council had approved their demolition earlier this year. KMRL has further assured that it will help develop the walkway nearby and also install lights and benches,” she said.