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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XX No. 7, july 16-31, 2010
The first steps to saving
some built heritage
(By the Editor)

The last few weeks have seen the Heritage Committee appointed by the Government of Tamil Nadu take its first steps towards the preservation of what is left of the city’s heritage. These steps are all welcome. But what is of importance is a sense of urgency in the functioning of the Committee so that valuable time is not lost in report writing and discussions. With the economy booming, so is the real estate market and that means more threat to the city’s heritage buildings.

A letter to owners of heritage buildings

The Under Secretary, CMDA

I am to inform you that the Honourable High Court of Madras in its order dated 29/4/2010 in WP No 25306 of 2006 para no 28 (5) directed to issue cause notices to the concerned especially private owners in respect of buildings/precincts listed in the report filed by the Committtee headed by Justice E Padmanabhan so that there is no threat of demolition or destruction or alteration to such buildings thereby diminishing their heritage value, without the permission of the Heritage Conservation Committee.

A copy of the High Court Order is enclosed for your ready reference. Your building/premises is one of those listed in the report.

(Editor: Details of buildings listed)

Hence notice is hereby issued to you in respect of your building/premises stated above that it shall not be demolished or destroyed or altered without the permission of the Heritage Conservation Committee constituted by the CMDA under the provision of development regulations forming part of Second Master Plan approved under the Tamil Nadu Town and Country Planning Act of 1971.


Editor’s Note: The E. Padmanabhan Committee report listed about 500 buildings and precincts and, we understand, most of the owners of the buildings listed have received this notice about a month ago.

Madras Musings understands that the Committee has met a few times in the past weeks and has divided its working among sub-committees comprised of its own members. As a first step, the buildings identified by the Justice E. Padmanabhan Committee that went into the merits of outdoor advertising have been taken up for protection. A letter, it is learnt, has been sent to the owners of these heritage properties informing them that, as per the recent orders of the High Court of Madras, no demolition/modification/alteration work can be taken up in these structures without the permission of the Committee. The letter has also informed the owners of the grade of heritage classification under which their buildings fall, though no information has been given as to what such a classification means and what will be the rights and duties of the building owners.

It is also understood that sub-committees have been assigned responsibilities of studying the architectural and heritage importance of Bharat Insurance Building and the Gokhale Hall. The sub-committees concerned, Madras Musings learns, have visited the buildings concerned and the members have either submitted or are in the process of submitting their individual viewpoints. Based on these, a decision will be taken on whether to preserve the buildings, either in part or in full. It will be remembered that appeals against the demolition of both these buildings were filed in the Madras High Court and it was in response to this that the Hon’ble Judges instructed the Government to form a Heritage Committee pending which no heritage structures in the city could be demolished.

This, however, is only the beginning. There is long way ahead before the Committee can take satisfaction in its work. Firstly, even while it focuses on specific buildings, it must not lose sight of the fact that its overall objective must be to ensure that the State passes a Heritage Act. This will ensure that all heritage buildings in the State are protected under law. Secondly, the Committee has to specify what kind of support buildings so protected can expect. The most important of these being financial assistance for repairs and maintenance, if any are to be made available. Thirdly, it has to ensure that the Transfer of Development Rights, which are at best vaguely spelt out in the Master Plan for Chennai, are spelt out with clarity.

What will perhaps be the most important task ahead is the listing and bringing into the ambit of protection, ALL heritage buildings in the metropolitan area – including private buildings, which are, at present, at the greatest risk. Most owners of heritage houses, having woken up to the possibility of an Act looming large, have already begun firming up plans for development of their properties. In case an Act is going to take time, the Committee can at least set about educating these people about the value of their properties in terms of heritage and offer them advice on what can be done as alternative to development. Can we expect such imaginative exercises from the Committee?


In this issue

The first steps to saving some built heritage
Madras Day... Week... Fortnight... Month?
Gearing up to celebrate Madras
Celebrating a thousand years:
The Rajaraja masterpiece
The City’s Fire Temple 100 years old
Other stories

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