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In a first, Delhi civic body to lease out heritage properties for commercial use : Shivpurinews.in

To protect heritage buildings and properties in its jurisdiction, the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) on Tuesday decided to grant licences to interested parties to use these buildings for commercial activities for a period of 20 years, with the stipulation that the licensee bear the entire expenditure on account of renovation, modifications, maintenance and upkeep of the property for the duration of the licence period, officials in the know of the matter said.

This is the first time that the SDMC is exploring the possibility of auctioning these heritage properties and buildings — some of which are as old as 400 years — to private parties for upkeep and maintenance.

SDMC mayor Mukesh Suryan said there are a number of heritage buildings and properties in his jurisdiction and some of them date back centuries. “With the passage of time, these structures have weakened and they require immediate repairs and maintenance. These properties cannot be demolished and can only be conserved and restored and periodically maintained,” he said.

He further said the corporation will not incur any expenditure on this account. “On the other hand, the SDMC will generate revenue from the grant of licence to use these heritage properties. The license will be granted for running retail shops, pharmaceuticals, commercial offices, clinics, banks, ATMs, guest houses, coaching centres, restaurants or any other permitted establishments,” he said.

He further said before taking the heritage property on lease, the licensee will have to submit the necessary drawings and design modifications to be made, along with a structural stability certificate, from a registered architect. “Initially, we are auctioning the 100-year-old house tax office building in Mehrauli, for upkeep and maintenance. The licensee will also have to submit these documents to the civic body’s heritage conservation committee for approval,” he said.

When contacted, a senior official of the heritage conservation committee said the SDMC has a total of 475 heritage properties under its control, of which some are as old as 400 years. “Some important sites include the 250-year-old Hauz e Shamsi (water reservoir), 100-year-old house tax building, 150-year-old St Thomas Church and 350-year-old malaria office near Lodi mosque in Mehrauli. Besides these, the Dilli Darwaja of Najafgarh, Purana Darwaja of Badarpur, Shroff hospital and Zeenat-ul Masjid in Daryaganj and the Hauz Khas pond in the Deer Park are more than 100 years old,” he said, asking not to be named.

According to the SDMC sources, the first property to be leased out on Tuesday was a 282.4 square metre plot in Mehrauli, on which stands the 100-year-old house tax building. The earnest money deposit (EMD), which is the minimum financial guarantee by the bidder, was set at 5 lakh for this property. The name of the highest bidder has not yet been disclosed by the SDMC.

The main opposition party in the three civic bodies, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAM), has condemned the SDMC’s decision to lease out heritage properties.

Senior AAP leader and party’s MCD in-charge Durgesh Pathak said after selling off valuable properties, the civic body is now leasing out heritage properties, which are the pride of residents. “The BJP-ruled MCDs have no other business but to sell or lease out valuable assets. By allowing this auctioning, they are playing with the pride of Delhi residents and we will now see restaurants and guest houses in these historic places,” he said.

The south corporation’s plan has also elicited mixed reactions from Delhi historians and activists.

Heritage activist Sohail Hashmi said with this move, the every essence of heritage buildings will disappear. “Imagine if a restaurant runs out of the century-old house tax building. Who will know that the building is a heritage property? It is always better that the civic body ask corporate houses for funds from their corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative for repair and maintenance of heritage sites. And, which archaeologist have they consulted in this connection? This is just a money minting exercise,” he said.

However, Swapna Liddle, another city historian, welcomed the move. “I don’t find anything wrong in leasing out these properties to private players, provided they don’t play with the heritage status of these properties,” she said.

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