From Victoria Public Hall to College of Fine Arts — who will save our heritage buildings?

In 2010, a Madras High Court bench had mandated protection and restoration of the city's heritage structures, suffering years of neglect. Sadly, both state and public will appear to be lacking.

It cannot be denied that 2020 had much to occupy the powers that be and also the rest of us, in this our city of Madras that is Chennai. Given that matters concerning heritage receive scant attention even in normal years, it is no surprise that there has been even less in the one that has just ended.

But if we let matters drift this way, we may soon end up having very little to show as far as our built heritage is concerned.

Some upsides

There have been some positive developments – the Chepauk Palace restoration is going on though the precinct has become more or less out of bounds unless you have matters pending before the National Green Tribunal.

The work on the National Art Gallery in the museum complex is nearing completion. The High Court of Madras, and the Metropolitan Magistrates Courts are being tended to, as are some of the historic police stations in the city.

The Raja Sir Savalai Ramaswami Mudaliar Choultry is looking resplendent, though it is now just a sham structure, the portions to the rear that actually defined its purpose having been pulled down. That was done under the shelter of a judgement of the High Court of Madras that conveniently interpreted an earlier order to restore around 400 heritage buildings as pertaining only to the facades.

Dilapidated heritage buildings

But a survey of several other heritage structures in the possession of the Government reveals a complete lack of a consistent policy. Victoria Public Hall remains a ghostly shell, as does Bharath Insurance Building, owned by the LIC.

The Bank of Madras building on Rajaji Salai is awaiting restoration after a disastrous fire and nothing will convince us that the owners, the State Bank of India, lack the funds for getting on with it, several years after the conflagration.

The faculty of the Government College of Fine Arts, Egmore, speak under strict anonymity that the buildings in the premises have begun developing cracks after the Metro became operational several feet below.

On the beachfront, the Lady Willingdon Institute now sports an ugly new arm, stretching from west to east. It is yet to be completed, but it promises to be an eyesore when done.

Not far from here, the Director General of Police’s headquarters, has in a classic instance of excess zeal, extended its colonnaded façade to completely hide the graceful outline of the art deco Forensic Department. Why this was done beats all logic but had there been an active heritage committee in place, this would not have happened.

Private buildings no better

The record when it comes to private buildings is even worse. Many have just vanished, the order preventing their demolition being circumvented by means, fair and foul.

Binny’s headquarters has gone, as has Gordon Woodroffe. The old D’Angeli’s Building is mere rubble. Several smaller structures, that dotted the Mount Road skyline and delighted the eye have also vanished, their absence being noticed by just a few. Several more will slip through the cracks.

It is not as though there are no laws in place. The State has a Heritage Act. It also has a Heritage Conservation Committee though as to what it does and how often it meets are all matters of conjecture. Certainly there are no records of its proceedings in the public domain.

The Indian National Trust for Arts and Cultural Heritage has been dormant on the heritage activism front ever since that rather disastrous litigation concerning P Orr & Sons.

With nobody questioning the Government on matters concerning conservation, arbitrary rules and regulations and contravening decisions are the order of the day. Perhaps it is time for INTACH to approach the Court requesting from the Government a report on what has been the action taken since the Justice Prabha Sridevan judgement in 2010 that mandated the restoration of heritage buildings in the city.

[This story was first published on Madras Musings. It has been republished with permission. The original article can be found here.]

Comments:

  1. Raghukumar Choodamani says:

    There wasa time when my maternal grand father MV Doraiswamy Iyer used to act and direct in Shakespeare’s plays at the Victoria Public Hall. The condition of this hall today is pathetic and must to be restored.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Similar Story

Mumbai, meet your new MPs from neighbouring Thane and Kalyan

Thane and Kalyan voters elected MPs from Eknath Shinde's Shiv Sena. Here is all you need to know about the two winning candidates.

Table of contentsThane: Naresh Mhaske, Shiv SenaElection results for Thane constituencyWho is Naresh Ganpat Mhaske?Political experienceChallenges in the Thane constituencyKey promises made by Naresh MhaskeKalyan: Dr. Shrikant Shinde, Shiv SenaElection results for Kalyan constituencyWho is Dr. Shrikant Shinde?MPLADs spending of Dr. Shrikant ShindePolitical experienceChallenges in the Kalyan constituencyKey promises made by Dr. Shrikant ShindeAlso read: Both the Thane and Kalyan constituencies have been bagged by the Shiv Sena (Eknath Shinde led faction) in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. The two MPs who have been elected from Thane and Kalyan are Naresh Mhaske and Dr. Shrikant Shinde respectively. Here is comprehensive…

Similar Story

Bengaluru, meet your new MPs

The BJP secured a victory in all four parliamentary constituencies in Bengaluru. Here is a detailed report on the elected MPs.

Table of contentsBangalore North: Shobha Karandlaje, BJPElection resultsAbout Bangalore North constituencyShobha Karandlaje's political experience Positions heldEducationCriminal recordAssets and liabilitiesChallenges in the constituencyKey promisesBangalore South: Tejasvi Surya, BJPAbout Bangalore South constituencyElection resultsTejasvi Surya's political experiencePositions held:EducationCriminal recordMPLAD detailsAssets and liabilitiesChallenges in the constituencyKey promisesBangalore Central: PC Mohan, BJPAbout Bangalore Central constituencyElection resultsPC Mohan's political experience Positions held:EducationCriminal recordMPLADS detailsAssets and liabilitiesChallenges in constituencyKey promisesBangalore Rural: Dr CN Manjunath, BJPElection resultsAbout Bangalore Rural constituencyDr. CN Manjunath's political experience EducationCriminal recordAssets and liabilitiesChallenges in the constituencyKey promisesAlso read The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) secured a victory in all four Parliamentary Constituencies in Bengaluru in the 2024…