It is not clear though it is hoped that our State will benefit economically from the Global Investors’ Meet, but 36 heritage buildings of our city definitely will. As part of the drive to spruce up the city for the Meet, it has been decided that these structures will be “given a facelift and be floodlit”. As to who will undertake this, the owners of the buildings or the Government, is as yet unclear, but what is certain is that this is a welcome move that will hopefully lead to bigger and better things as far as heritage is concerned.
The list as it has been released comprises a mix of public and private buildings. It is clear that whoever compiled it has done so with good intentions, but has not gone too much into detail. For instance, some are enormous precincts and it is not clear as to how these can be floodlit. Take for instance the Madras Club and the Theosophical Society – which parts of these campuses are to be illuminated? There is also at least one building in the list, which is no longer standing – we allude to what is listed as Old Government House. Was this not the 250-year-old building on Government Estate that had to be imploded to make way for the new Assembly-cum-Secretariat (oops! We mean the Multi-Speciality Referral Hospital)?
And then there are some whose owners may not want any illumination at all. We refer to the Bharat Insurance Building. The LIC, which owns the structure, has made it clear that it does not want to restore the building. Given the ongoing litigation, they have made the edifice over to the elements, thereby speeding up its eventual collapse. If this is to be illuminated, what will be seen will be a roofless shell, peeling ornamentation and plenty of vegetation on the building. We are glad, however, that the lighting up will bring to the open this precious piece of heritage. Hopefully someone in LIC will also feel the same after the floodlighting and will have a change of heart. The same goes for Victoria Students’ Hostel which is in such a bad way that the students there have been protesting against its condition.
The selection of the buildings has been done rather cleverly too. Most are on principal thoroughfares that the Global Investors will take during their stay here. Some, such as Bharati Illam, though not on this route, have been selected presumably to highlight our literary past. Now what if some of these investors wander off by themselves and see some neglected heritage structures? Will they not wonder as to why so progressive a State as ours does not have legislation to protect heritage? If you run your eye over the list, another aspect may strike you – most of them are British era built structures. Now, was this not the heritage that most of those in power used to deride as remnants of a colonial past? Was it not why they did not want to participate in Madras Week celebrations or organise a suitable event to commemorate 375 years of the Fort? Global investors evidently make the powers-that-be think differently.
That said, the present move to illuminate and showcase our heritage is a commendable one. We also hope that the Government’s heritage consciousness will not cease with the Investors Meet and live on to generate more concrete results such as speeding up of conservation and restoration work in heritage buildings in its possession. The State should also think about making its Heritage Act a reality before the Investors Meet by forming the Heritage Conservation Committee that is now merely on paper. The Committee needs to have a broad-based membership that is not restricted to Government servants alone. Only if all this is done can we truly claim to the Global Investors that we seriously intend to protect our heritage.