Historical Rajabai Clock Tower scheduled for restoration

Fort campus of University of Mumbai houses a tall clock tower built in the bygone era which took its iconic form in the precinct around the onset of the British Raj. Rajabai Clock Tower was designed by an English architect, George Gilbert Scott, the experienced hand behind the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel in London. And by no surprise, he fashioned it roughly around Big Ben, the Clock Tower of the Palace of Westminster.

The total cost of construction came to INR 200,000, a hefty sum for the era it was built in. This entire cost was stumped up by Premchand Roychand, a prosperous broker who founded the Bombay Stock Exchange on the condition that the tower be named after his mother Rajabai. The Tower was built with Malad and Porbandar stone along with Burmese Teak wood.

As for many historic buildings in Colaba and the Fort area of Bombay, Rajabai Tower was denied preservation and conservation in the past. Some conservation architects and activists have long fought the battle to preserve this part of physical history in the vicinity and have demanded attention through maintenance. Unfortunately, for progressive India, history is of less importance for the time being. Currently they are bloodthirstily focused on commercially-viable propositions of development.

However, even though conservation architects are in minority, this hasn’t given them a reason to concede their battle. And rightly so. So, with a bit of patience, funds have been raised to meet the estimated budget of restoration (INR 4.2 Crores) donated by Tata Consultancy Services of India. The curious thing to note here is that funding raised is through a private corporation and not public money. The government seems to be always missing from the civic projects.


Rajabai Tower under construction (Circa 1875)

Architecture firm, Somaya and Kalappa of Mumbai have been chosen to carry out this work. The firm, led by architect Brinda Somaya, has been at the forefront in advocacy of restoration of historic built environments across India.

The plan of the commissioned work is not yet been made public but news is that the scope of work will include a thorough cleaning of the façade and repair or replacement of damaged exterior stone, structural strengthening, stopping of water leakage, removal of plants and biological growth, refurbishment of the Burma teak fittings in the library, provision of services like wiring and air-conditioning where they are needed, as well as facilities to help preserve rare books in the library’s collection. The work on the Rajabai Tower is awaiting two things: required approvals from City officials and monsoon season to pass.

Work is expected to begin right after both are taken care of and is expected to be completed in two years time. Amen to that!

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