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How poet Madhusudan Dutt’s Kidderpore house got saved

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A recent RTI (Right to Information) case filed in Calcutta High Court demanding to know the status of poet Madhusudan Dutta’s house might have saved this Kolkata structure from getting demolished. After KMC’s detailed clarification, the present owner’s plans to rebuild the property has been stalled.The 19th-century Bengali poet and dramatist Michael Madhusudan Dutt’s house at Kidderpore is listed as grade II (B) heritage structure in KMC’s records and according to law, the present owner does not have the right to demolish the structure or rebuild the property.

On November 16 this year, Calcutta High Court lawyer Gourab Kumar Basu sent a letter to the director general of Project Management Unit (PMU) on behalf of his client, Parnali Banerjee,  demanding to know detailed information about the two-storied building next to Kidderpore’s Five Star Market on  20A, 20B and 20C Karl Marx Sarani. The DG promptly sent a reply to Basu which stated that the mentioned address was the home of poet Madhusudan Dutt, one of the greatest personalities of Bengal Renaissance. The house is listed in the KMC records as Grade II (B) heritage structure. However, when Basu sent a letter to the West Bengal Heritage Commission earlier seeking a clarification in this matter, he was told the KMC's Heritage Conservation Committee had listed the property as heritage structure but failed to produce authentic documents to substantiate the claim.

On August 28, Basu sent a letter to the secretary of the state heritage commission informing him about his client Parnali’s willingness to submit documents that would validate the claim that the poet indeed resided in that house. This was in response to an advertisement published in newspapers asking general public to deposit any proof  in this regard. The secretary said there was a time frame of 30 days by which documents were to be submitted but since the time was over,  he was asked to get in touch with KMC officials because they were the ones to take the final decision in this regard.Veteran artist and chairman of the commission, Suvaprasanna, was of the opinion that the present owner, Mohammad Salauddin had bought the property in the 1990s and there was no proof  to confirm that this was the house where the poet lived. So, the commission had no power to overrule the present owner’s decision to rebuild the property. He claimed to have convinced the property’s owner to install a bust of the bard inside the building along with a plaque that states Michael Madhusudan Dutt’s contribution to Bengali literature and his association with the address. Salauddin himself had put up a notice in front of the house that said if anyone could prove that the poet lived in the house, he would personally reward the person an amount of Rs 25 lakhs.

However, historians and researchers are relieved now,as the confusion regarding the property has been cleared, following the letter issued by the DG of the Project Management Unit. In this context Professor Shaktisadhan Mukhopadhyay, who was instrumental in finding and reviving the house of Henry Louis Vivian Derozio has pointed out that earlier the house was listed as Grade II (A) but now it has been given Grade II (B) rating. If a structure is given a Grade II (B) tag, then certain changes within the main structure of the building can be made. Basu feels now that the KMC’s stance on the house has been clarified, it can be saved only if the State Government takes initiative to take up the building.

After recent developments, the chairman of Heritage Commission, Suvaprasannah as now changed his statement and says the commission tried every possible ways to procure evidence to lay claim on the building but since no proof could be found to establish the claim, it is only natural that the new owner (Salauddin) would want to use the plot for what suited him best. He cited the example of the state government spending crores to take over Sister Nivedita’s house and says if anyone could prove the poet lived here, the government will do everything to take over the house and declare it a heritage site. However, thanks to the RTI case, the Kidderpore House of poet Madhusudan Dutt will finally be saved from getting turned into another high-rise!