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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XIX No. 18, january 1-15, 2010
Yet another Committee?
(By the Editor)

But what have the other Heritage Committees done in the last 15 years?

The recent directive of the Madras High Court that the State Government ought to set up a Heritage Conservation Committee within three months to protect heritage buildings in the State has come as a shot in the arm for those who have campaigned long and hard for this. But, in the euphoria that has followed this announcement, it cannot be forgotten that the Government has in the past made several half-hearted attempts in this direction only to lose steam midway. Will the latest directive, therefore, make any difference to the way governments of all political hues view heritage?

Fourteen years ago, a consultation was initiated by the Town and Country Planning Department, resulting in a Heritage Act draft along the guidelines suggested by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests. Subsequently, it was felt that this ought to come under the purview of the local authorities and the same was passed on to the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) for buildings that fell within the city limits. In 2002, another set of draft regulations was put together in consultation with the CMDA. These remained in the draft stage. In each instance, the drafts were prepared with the participation of heritage committees that had been formed.

The Second Master Plan of the city has incorporated certain rules concerning heritage buildings, but these rules will lack teeth as there has been no inventory of such buildings. Thereafter, a grading activity which will classify the structures on the basis of their importance also needs to be done.

As part of the draft regulations, the Madras Chapter of the Indian National Trust for Arts and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) began listing the buildings which, it felt, ought to be classified as heritage structures. These numbered around 170 and were mostly public buildings. It would be no exaggeration to state that the number of buildings that ought to be classified thus could go up to 1000 or even more. As none of these buildings is covered under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958, several have already been pulled down, defaced or irrevocably altered.

Another development took place in 2006 when the Madras High Court directed the formation of a committee in connection with cases pertaining to outdoor advertising. The committee, headed by a retired judge, was asked to list places of heritage, aesthetic, religious and educational importance and to come up with recommendations on how these were to be treated. The committee in its report had included a few hundred such buildings and also classified them in terms of importance. The final judgement, as is well known, ordered the removal of all hoardings, which was complied with. But the Government did not take cognisance of the aspects concerning protection of heritage buildings.

What is curious is that the CMDA already has a Heritage Committee, which rarely meets. The last meeting, held some time ago, had agreed that the list of heritage buildings that had initially been made by INTACH and incorporated in the various drafts would be publicised through advertisements and a public discussion held. The final list of buildings would then be published and those listed would be protected from all changes. INTACH’s subsequent list of over 500 buildings would then be taken up. However, even the advertisements have not been forthcoming and the buildings continue to suffer. It is the view of this journal that the Government, while replying to the latest directive of Court, will state that it already has a Committee in place. And that would be the end of the matter. Or will it?

Meanwhile, the city and the State continue losing buildings. What is needed is political will to get a Heritage Act passed. In its absence, our heritage stands in danger of being obliterated.


In this issue

Yet another Committee?
What’s with Madras and heritage conservation?
May 2010 see their conservation
Calming traffic in shopping areas, like Pondy Bazaar
Historic Residences of Chennai - 33
Other stories

Our Regulars

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


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