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Vol. XX No. 20, February 1-15, 2011
Will city's heritage be soon wiped out by Metrorail?

There can, perhaps, be no doubt that the Metro is an absolute must for Chennai. Such a mass transport system, if linked with all other public transport services, will go a long way in easing the present congestion. What is worrying heritage conservationists, however, is the threat that the proposed routes pose to historic buildings, precincts and sites.

A sketch of the proposed route of Chennai Metro as downloaded from their website.

Madras Musings finds that the arm of the Metro on Poonamallee High Road will run along the historic stretch that is flanked by Ripon Buildings, Victoria Public Hall, Central Station, the Raja Sir Savalai Ramaswami Mudaliar Choultry, Siddique Serai, the General Hospital and the Southern Railway offices. It is also reliably learnt that Metrorail has approached the authorities to hand over a part of the front gardens of Ripon Buildings and Victoria Public Hall for construction of a station and to provide access through stairways to it.

If this proposed idea is implemented it would be a classic instance of the way governments work, the left hand not knowing what the right hand does. It is only recently that extensive restoration work was begun at both the Ripon Buildings and the VP Hall on budgets of Rs. 7 crore and Rs. 3 crore respectively. Ripon Buildings was also to have a new annexe built which would house the offices of the Corporation, leaving the ground floor of the main historic building to be converted into a museum. It is not clear as to how these plans would be affected by the Metro’s own plans. It must also not be forgotten that the front lawn of Ripon Buildings has several statues of distinguished citizens of Madras. Where are they to be moved?

As for Victoria Public Hall, if it is to sacrifice its front space, it is a moot point if the building can be put to any practical use as a town – people’s – hall. It will be giving away whatever little parking space it possesses. There is no other parking facility anywhere in the vicinity. Its access will also be only through the narrow lane that separates it from the Central Station.

List of buildings and ­precincts likely to be affected by Metrorail

Along Mount Road: Simpson and Company; The Hindu; The Mail; P Orr & Sons; Poompuhar; ­India Silk House; Bata's (D'Angellis); Higgin­bothams; Cosmopolitan Club; Christ Church; Addisons; Bharat Insurance Building; Electric ­Theatre; Madrasa-I-Azam; Quaid-e-Milleth College for Women; Dargah Hazrath Syed Moosa Shah Quadiri; Gove Building; Thousand Lights Mosque.
Along Poonamallee High Road: Memorial Hall; Southern Railway ­Office; General Hospital; Madras Medical College; Nurses Hostel; Central Stat­ion; VP Hall; Ripon Buildings; Raja Sir Savalai Ramaswami Muda­liar Choultry; Siddique Serai.

It must also not be forgotten that the auditorium at VP Hall enjoys natural ventilation. If a busy railway station is to be housed within a few metres from it (as opposed to Central, which is quite some distance away), what kind of disturbance will speakers at functions, performers and audiences have to put up with during events at the hall? Therefore, to what purpose the high-profile and the expensive restoration?

What is surprising is that Metrorail has not chosen to ask for some land from the vast Central Prison campus which is close by and presently empty. It is practically opposite and will need minimum realignment of the Metro route. The land is said to be earmarked for the General Hospital’s expansion, but surely space equivalent to what is being asked for from Ripon Buildings and VP Hall can easily be taken from it.

The Metrorail website (http://www.chennai has a map of the proposed routes which is shown on page 1 for readers’ convenience.

Madras Musings a fortnight ago pointed out the threat to Mount Road buildings. Today’s story on Poonamallee High Road shows how much more widespread is the threat to major heritage buildings in the city.

Isn’t it time for Metrorail to call for a public discussion on its plans?

In this issue

Will city's heritage be soon wiped out by Metrorail?
What's in a name?
A remarkable history...
... in the care of the mentally ill
An early Madras activist
The magnificence of Mukurthi

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Our Readers Write
Quizzin' with Ram'nan
Dates for your diary


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