MUMBAI: Before it stopped short in 2003, the clock at Crawford Market had faithfully kept time for 134 years. For the last three years, however, its hands have stayed still.
But help has now come from the most unexpected quarter-the all-powerful Right to Information Act.
Pained at the sight of the silent clock, furniture trader Aziz G Amreliwala made repeated attempts to get the municipal authorities to fix it.
His pleas fell on deaf ears, so he finally lodged a formal complaint with the Lok Ayukta in early 2005. The Lok Ayukta replied, quoting civic officials, who maintained that the clock was working.
"This was a lie. The clock was working properly until 2003. It then stopped functioning, although it was repaired for a brief period in 2004,"said Amreliwala.
When he approached the BMC technician responsible for repairing public clocks, the latter couldn't quite understand why this furniture trader from Andheri was so interested in an old market timepiece and even offered him his own wrist watch.
"I told him I have enough money to buy a watch, and that it was a shame that he was drawing his salary as a technician given the pathetic condition of the clock,"said Amreliwala.
After the incident, he applied three times under the Right to Information Act, asking if there if was any intention of setting the clock right and, if so, how much time it would take to do so.
Finally, the assistant engineer (markets) replied in January this year stating that the annual maintenance contract for the clock had expired and that the proposal to renew the contract was under review. "The correct timewill be set as soon as the annual contract is finalised,"came the reply.
Ward officer-in-charge Anand L Waghralakar also confirmed that he was in the know about the RTI query. "The repair work will begin soon,"he said.
But for Amreliwala, who has used the RTI to get the clock at Jijamata Udyan ticking, the struggle is not over. "I will pester the BMC every two days on the progress of the work,"he said.
Urban researcher Sharada Dwivedi said not just the clock, but even some other architectural features of the Crawford Market structure were under siege.
"The bas relief on the fountain inside the Phule market executed by Lockwood Kipling, the first principal of the Sir J J School of Arts, has been garishly painted over. And the free-flowing river goddess is now adorned in saris and bindis,"Dwivedi said.
Mumbai will celebrate 7/7/7 in style. The Crawford Market heritage clock will resume ticking on Saturday. Its still hands will be sweeping across the dial again after three long years, thanks to Dorabjee Tata and Sons Trust, which pumped in money to help the BMC restore the clock.
The clock stood the test of time for 133 years before it stopped ticking in 2004. The city seemed to be oblivious about the loss of a heritage till furniture trader Aziz Amreliwala decided to use the Right to Information (RTI) Act as a tool to bring the clock back from the dead.
Months of correspondence yielded the desired result. Venkatesh Rao, 44, one of the very few who could mend such a vintage clock, was approached by Tata Sons Trust to restore the clock. Ever since, he had worked tirelessly on it, with BMC officials lending a helping hand.
“It is weight driven clock with a pendulum length of one metre. It works on a ordinary wall clock principal, the only difference being its sheer size,” said Rao.
For the past six months, special spare parts for the clock were brought in from all over India. “Many of the old spare parts were completely rusted, and had to be tailor-made,” said Vijay Balamwar, Assistant Municipal Commissioner
(A ward), who worked on the project with Rao.Conservation architect Vikas Dilawari said, “In those days, markets were landmark buildings, and were accentuated by clocks. Placing clocks on market towers is a western concept.”
Time stands still at Crawford Market
More than a month after it got damaged, the heritage clock is yet to be brought back to life
The clock sitting atop the historic Crawford Market is considered to be of heritage value. The tag, however, has not helped it in anyway.
More than a month after torrential rains damaged the clock and it stopped ticking, civic authorities responsible for maintaining the 134-year-old clock are yet to restore it. While the dial and hands of one of the four faces of the clock fell during the heavy rains on August 4, the remaining three faces have also stopped working.
Civic officials from the market department claimed that lack of budgetary provision is causing the delay. “The damage to the clock was not anticipated, hence, the market department did not make any budgetary provision for its repairs,” a senior official said. The only other time the clock’s hands stopped ticking was in 2004.
Then it took three years to make it tick. In fact, had it not been for a Right to Information (RTI) query and months of correspondence by Andheri furniture trader Aziz Amreliwala, the city could have been mourning the loss of a heritage monument.
After the activist brought the neglect to light, the Tata Sons trust approached the BMC for sponsoring its repair. Venkatesh Rao, one of the very few possessing the ability to mend a vintage clock, agreed to lend a hand in the repairs. The spare parts were brought from various parts of the country. But the effort paid off only for a year or so. The civic body’s contract with the trust to oversee the clock’s operation and maintenance expired this July. It had been on its own since then.
A furious Amreliwala told DNA that this only illustrates the lack of value for national heritage. Market department officials said that they had requested the civic engineering department to arrange for repair work funds. DNA is in possession of a communication made by the department to this effect on September 4.
Amreliwala remarked that in the face of such procedural delays, one did not know when the damaged clock will be mended. While the civic body does not mind pumping money for developing infrastructure, it comes as a shock that BMC explains lack of resources as the reason for delay in repairs of a heritage monument. Market department officials said that a contract would soon be floated for the operation and periodical maintenance of the clock.
This just shows that filing a RTI Application, sensitising the administration, using the information further, is not enough.
One has to continuously and diligently pursue the case - otherwise, matters go back to where they were.
No wonder Mr Amreliwala is furious.