Kochi’s Heritage at Risk: Unchecked Violations Threaten UNESCO Hopes

Fort Kochi is losing its heritage appeal due to the apathy of the officials concerned. Heritage buildings are giving way to unappealing multi-storeyed buildings and many projects lie in limbo
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Introduction: Kochi, with its rich historical charm and cultural legacy, has long been a beacon for tourists. The vibrant confluence of cultures, architectural marvels, and historical sites in Fort Kochi and Mattanchery make them prime candidates for UNESCO heritage status. However, this dream is fading due to rampant rule violations and unscientific urban planning.

Heritage Under Threat: Fort Kochi and Mattanchery are losing their unique historical ambiance. Despite efforts by the Kochi Corporation’s Centre for Heritage, Environment, and Development (c-hed) to draft a heritage bylaw, the initiative remains unimplemented. K J Sohan, former mayor of Kochi, emphasizes that the charm of Fort Kochi lies in its heritage – the buildings, cobbled streets, Chinese fishing nets, and the stories they tell. Unfortunately, unchecked violations are erasing this charm for financial gain.

Violation of Heritage Rules: Sohan explains that any construction in a heritage zone must follow strict guidelines. Plans should be approved by Town Planning and the Heritage Commission, a process adhered to in other districts. However, this process is often ignored in Fort Kochi, raising concerns about regulatory oversight.

Government and Private Sector Complicity: Tourism expert Jose Dominic points out that not only private entities but also the state government are culpable. Government buildings, like the five-storied structure near the Bishop’s House and the Coast Guard building, are cropping up in the heritage zone. Additionally, projects like the Kochi Water Metro, while beneficial for transport, are compromising the heritage value of the area with modern structures like shopping complexes.

Loss of Heritage Attractiveness: Johann Kuruvilla, founder of the Kochi Heritage Project, stresses that heritage is the key attraction for tourists. If Fort Kochi and Mattanchery lose their charm, tourism will decline. He highlights the neglect of iconic structures like the Chinese fishing nets, with funds allocated for their renovation going unused. Historic buildings are left to crumble, reflecting a lack of concern from authorities.

Unscientific Urban Planning: Sohan criticizes the Cochin Smart Mission Ltd (CSML) for unscientific project implementations. Essential heritage elements like cobbled stones and cast-iron street lamps are being removed in the name of beautification. This destruction underscores a broader issue of heritage neglect that demands urgent state government intervention.

Heritage Regulations Ignored: The Kerala Municipality Building Rules mandate that any construction or demolition in heritage zones must be approved by the Art and Heritage Commission. However, many unauthorized buildings have emerged without this permission. In 2023, the Cochin Heritage Zone Conservation Society geotagged 150 sites, but these efforts are undermined by persistent regulatory breaches.

Must-See Heritage Sites: Despite these challenges, Fort Kochi still boasts several must-see heritage buildings, including:

  • Vasco House
  • Koder House
  • Old Harbour House
  • David Hall
  • Bastion Bungalow
  • Thakur House
  • Pierce Leslie Bungalow
  • Old Lighthouse Bristow Hotel
  • Delta Study
  • Brunton Boatyard

Conclusion: The heritage of Fort Kochi and Mattanchery is at a critical juncture. Without stringent enforcement of heritage conservation rules and scientific urban planning, these areas risk losing their historical significance. Immediate action is required to preserve the legacy and charm that make Kochi a unique cultural destination.

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