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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XX No. 3, may 16-31, 2010
Preventing demolition
is not enough
(By The Editor)

How do we ensure preservation & renovation?

Bentinck’s Building when it was left abandoned by Government – laying the groundwork for a demolition order.

The past few weeks have seen considerable activity on the heritage front, all of it positive and affirmative. The Government, as mentioned in our last issue, announced on the floor of the Assembly that it would maintain heritage buildings. The High Court has ordered that the Bharat Insurance (Kardyll) Building has to be preserved. The Young Men’s Indian Association has committed to the High Court that it will not demolish Gokhale Hall. And, lastly, the Government has got together a Heritage Conservation Committee (HCC) as promised by it to the High Court. But the crux of the matter, namely the preservation and conservation of heritage buildings, has not been addressed by anyone. Will the Heritage Act that conservationists have been pressing for be merely a Prevention of Demolition Act?

A reading of the current situation suggests such an eventuality. Though the restraining of the demolition of Bharat Insurance Building is a welcome measure, the judgement has stated that: “As far as possible the building must be saved. The Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority and the Chennai Corporation, with the consultation of the HCC, shall issue directions for the protection of the building.” This does not necessarily mean taking steps to restore the building, which is an important and urgent requirement if the heritage structure is to be put to use. Past history in Chennai has shown us that whenever such a restraint is placed, be it by the High Court or otherwise, those in possession of heritage buildings simply abandon them, thereby allowing nature to take its course. The building, poorly maintained and given over to the elements, could be easily certified as worthy of demolition, as happened in the case of Bentinck’s Building (the old Collectorate).

With the latest judgement in place, focus has shifted to the Heritage Conservation Committee that the Government has put together. The Hon’ble Judges have stated that the Committee has to recommend to the Government steps to notify buildings listed by it as heritage buildings and, within three months, cause notices to be issued to the concerned, especially the private owners, in respect of buildings listed by the Committee so that there is no threat of demolition or destruction or alteration to such buildings. It is reliably learnt that the Committee has been asked to base its listing of buildings on the report filed by the Justice E. Padmanabhan Committee when it was studying the problem of outdoor advertisement hoardings.

Following this, the State Government has come out with the list of members of the Committee. But the composition of that list does not give much confidence. Barring one member from INTACH, the rest are all functionaries in various Government departments or institutions. Experience has shown that such committees dominated by bureaucrats usually toe the Government line when it comes to any decision. A few more independent observers, particularly those with conservation expertise and a sense of history, would have lent greater credibility to the Committee.

Be that as it may, much depends on how soon and how often the Committee will meet and the speed with which it can produce the much-awaited list of heritage buildings and, more importantly, what are the guidelines for maintaining, preserving and restoring them. It also has to address the problem of compensating/rewarding private parties who are in possession of heritage buildings but do not have the wherewithal to maintain or restore them. Several may even be wanting to avail of transfer of developmental rights.

The Court has asked the State Government to issue rules to prevent persons from undertaking any repair even under the name of renovation of heritage buildings without seeking the necessary approval of the Committee. While this will prevent any further demolitions, in the absence of guidelines, there will be no repair or maintenance work either. And that is another way to lose our heritage.


In this issue

Preventing demolition is not enough
Does ‘T’Nagarisation’ of Mylapore lie ahead?
A user’s view of Connemara Library
Museum, Library and Theatre
Historic Residences of Chennai - 42
Other stories

Our Regulars

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


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