Nov 29, 2008

India - Restoring Taj to cost Rs 5bn,take 12 months

NEW DELHI: The restoration of the century-old Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel in downtown Mumbai that was considerably damaged during the terror
siege could take as much as 12 months and cost about Rs 5 billion (Rs 500 crore/$100 million), experts on structural engineering and architecture say.

A sea-facing landmark of India's commercial capital, offering a panoramic view of the Arabian Sea and the majestic Gateway of India, the hotel was built in 1903, with its architecture blending Moorish, Oriental and Florentine styles.

Thus, the restoration, will take that much more time and cost more than conventional restorations, the experts said, adding the services of professional institutions like the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) may also be required.

"The Taj is one of our oldest hotels and a heritage structure. So, any restoration work would take a minimum of a year. It is my estimate that it could cost somewhere around Rs 500 crore," said Pandurang Potnis, vice president of the Indian Institute of Architecture.

"You must understand that restoration work for such structures is a cumbersome process. It involves a detailed assessment of the damage with blueprints. Only then can the damaged structure be strengthened," he added.

"In India, this kind of technology is available with only a handful of institutions like the Archaeological Survey of India," Potnis, who also runs Bangalore-based architecture consultancy firm under his name, told IANS.

Visitors to the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel have come away in awe of its Indian influences, vaulted alabaster ceilings, onyx columns, archways, carpets and chandeliers, as also its collection of art and antique furniture.

Jamsetji N Tata, the legendary founder of India's largest industrial house, built the 565-room hotel much before the Gateway of India was completed in 1928 to commemorate the visit of Britain's King George V and Queen Mary.

The grand property, which will also require some experienced artisans and workers to refurbish and restore, has hosted royalty, heads of states,
corporate honchos and celebrities, among other guests in the past.

A K Nagpal, the head of the civil engineering department at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) here, also said that structural engineering was the trickiest part in restoration of damaged properties.

"We have undertaken such consulting projects in the past and provide advice to even private companies," added Nagpal, who specialises in areas like structural engineering and tall buildings.

Rajesh Thambi, who runs an architectural design firm Saving Catalyst here, said that if it takes a skilled person around five minutes to construct one sq ft of carpeted area, restoration would take anywhere between 45-50 minutes.

"I would say that the cost of restoration - it will take a lot of care while doing so - will be around Rs 1,500-Rs 2,000 per square feet."

The owners of the property, Indian Hotels Ltd., have said that they would take all measures to restore the Mumbai landmark and had an insurance policy against terror attacks.

"We are not just determined, but completely committed, to rebuilding the institution. We will restore it to its fullest glory," said company vice chairman R K Krishna Kumar.

"The loss of life is extremely distressing, as is seeing a building as unique as this destroyed. The entire top floor has gone up in flames, but as soon as the dust settles we will go out there and begin the rebuilding," Krishna Kumar added.

Armed terrorists who had seized the hotel for four days earlier this week had set deliberate parts of it on fire in a bid to damage it. The hotel suffered further damage when commandos had moved against the terrorists Friday-Saturday to wrest it back from them.

Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata visited the property Saturday with his management team to inspect the damage and discuss measures for the hotel's restoration.

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