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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XVIII No. 9, august 16-31, 2008
A Heritage Act, please

Lovers of Chennai’s heritage
request Chief Minister for action
in an open letter

Dear Chief Minister,

Re: A Heritage Act for Chennai

Greetings on the occasion of Madras Day, which commemorates the founding of Madras that is Chennai! The celebrations which take place around this day highlight the various aspects of our multicultural and vibrant metropolis, the capital of our State.

Is Gokhale Hall going...

...the Bharat Insurance Building way?

On this occasion, we, a group of heritage enthusiasts, would like to thank you for the various actions taken by your Government in protecting and preserving our heritage. The DGP Building on the Marina is a shining testimony to this, the decision for saving this building having been taken during your previous regime. Today, when we see this building lit up at night, we are filled with joy. We understand that you have recently laid the foundation stone for an additional block on the same campus and we hope that this will be built in the same design as the earlier building or will at least completely harmonise with the old, as had been promised at the time restoration of the DGP Building had begun. To highlight this, we need only to draw your attention to the way the twin to the Napier’s Bridge was faithfully made in the same style, thereby creating a harmonious whole. But with the shape the new Forensics Department has taken, we can’t but be concerned about what shape the DGP Building II will take.

But let’s get back to the positives. The decision to have Fort St George’s ramparts floodlit has gladdened all heritage enthusiasts. It was wholly inappropriate that the place to which our city traces its origins and the seat of administration today, be shrouded in darkness at night. Now that it is illuminated, the precincts shine as a beacon of hope for more heritage conservation to come.

We also thank you for the restoration of the old block of the Connemara Library which was completed last year, and for the announcement that Ripon Buildings and Chepauk Palace will soon be restored. At this juncture we also request you to ensure that Victoria Public Hall, which stands next to Ripon Buildings, is considered for restoration at the earliest. And we hope you will use your influence with the owners of Gokhale Hall and the Bharat Insurance Building.

Parks too have, of late, been maintained beautifully in the city and we congratulate you for the way the older parks, namely My Ladye’s Gardens, May Day Park and Panagal Park, are being restored. We hope that the historic Madi Poonga is also opened to the public as soon as possible. We also trust that the ongoing beautification of the Marina will be done keeping in mind its importance to the city as a vital lung and its being an outstanding natural feature.

We take this happy occasion, when so much has been done for heritage, to remind you of a long-pending request of ours – a Heritage Act for the city of Chennai.

Today, even as we write, countless heritage buildings in the city are being pulled down or are to be pulled down to make way for new structures. The absence of a Heritage Act, in addition to lack of provisions for transfer of property development rights of those who own historic/architecturally significant buildings, has only ensured that there is no incentive to preserve them. Skyrocketing land prices also tempt people to develop the land in their possession at the expense of heritage buildings that stand on them. A Heritage Act passed in the Assembly is essential to ensure that our heritage, built and natural, is saved from complete oblivion and to enable future generations to know of the way Chennai developed into a great city. The demolition of Government House and the proposed demolition of Kalaivanar Arangam, both to make way for the new Assembly complex, would have not happened we feel, and alternative designs that would have integrated these buildings into the new layout drawn up, if only a Heritage Act had been in place.

All over the world, cities are doing their best to preserve their heritage, for it is this that gives each city a unique character. Chennai, which is doing its best to become truly international in look and feel, should not lag behind in this aspect.

We would like to draw your attention to the fact that the homework for the passage of such an Act has already been done and heritage enthusiasts led by INTACH (the Indian National Trust for Arts and Cultural Heritage) have already listed out the buildings and areas worthy of preservation in Chennai city. The list, together with a draft for a Heritage Act, is already with the Government. It only needs to be read again and approved for legislation. If this were done now, we could still save some of the historic structures of this city.

May we expect favourable action from you?

Thanking you

Yours faithfully,

Lovers of Chennai’s heritage

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