Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXVII No. 14, November 1-15, 2017
The Binny headquarters in the 1980s
Tamil Nadu may have a Heritage Act and Chennai city a Heritage Conservation Committee, but there is really no protection for heritage structures even if they are listed and recognised as such in judgements by the High Court of Madras. Those concerned with conservation and preservation of historic structures are made painfully aware of this fact every now and then. The most recent instance has been the demolition of the historic Binny building on Armenian Street.
If you went strictly by the rulebook, this structure could not be demolished. Going by the 2010 judgement of the High Court of Madras, delivered on writ petition no. 25306 of 2006, this was one of 400 odd buildings of the city recognised to be of historic importance. The structure was accorded Grade 2 status, meaning its façade could not be changed and its interiors modified only to an extent. All such changes had to be done only after permission from the Heritage Conservation Committee (HCC) of the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority. That Committee had been constituted in terms of this judgement and it was to notify owners of all heritage buildings that demolitions were not to be contemplated. The owners of the Binny building were also duly written to.
The structure was not maintained in any way thereafter and then, most conveniently for the owners, a fire, which is now more or less a given in all heritage buildings of the city (and not surprisingly, given the neglect, the availability of dry timber and age-old electric wiring), swept through the interior. It did not in any way structurally damage the building and its façade at least was rock solid. But that did not prevent the owners from approaching the Department of Housing and Urban Development for a -no-objection certificate to demolish. This document, which experience has shown us is not very difficult to obtain, facilitated the Corporation of Greater Chennai to permit demolition, which of course was done with an alacrity never seen when maintenance or conservation
There is a sense of concern, even panic, over the outbreak of Dengue in the City and in several parts of the State. From all over the State, 12,324 cases have been -reported with 75 days more to go for this year. Considering that an outbreak of similar -proportion occurred in 2012, when 12,826 persons were affected, this shows that system failure alarms have not been heeded and that we are content to take symptomatic action, reactively, after the disaster has occurred. A team from the Central Government, Ministry of Health, has toured the State to assess the epidemic, recommend remedial action and estimate the extent of central assistance that the State would need in terms of money and technical support. The Central team’s statement that the 40 deaths reported are minimal out of reported cases of over 12,000 is statistically correct, but hardly comforting.
The State has sought Rs. 256 crores from the Central Team. Political leaders have visited hospitals. The High Court has demanded a status report from the Government. The report has been submitted to the Court. Opposition leaders have placed the responsibility squarely on the present Government. The Chief Minister has admitted that the situation is serious and said that the Government is taking all possible action. Expressions of concern over loss of lives have poured in. Thus, everything has run according to script. But when it all subsides, we will go back to doing nothing to avert recurrence and have a lasting effect.
One of the two municipal solid waste dumps for Chennai is located within the Pallikaranai marsh in Perungudi (Photo
by S. Gopikrishna Warrier
The people of Chennai responded admirably to the climate crisis unleashed by unprecedented rains in November-December 2015, but the city is yet to build upon the lessons it learnt during the subsequent floods.
Indian cities are starting to look boringly similar on the ground. The roads look similar, and so do some of the malls, buildings, apartment complexes and shops. Looking at a city while approaching it in an aircraft, train or by road gives a perspective of the landscape on which it is built upon.
Landing at Chennai, you will see many irrigation tanks. These are usually depressions in which a mud or masonry wall has been constructed at the deep end, with a spillway allowing excess water to flow back into the stream. Downstream, not very far from this tank, would be another, for which the inlet stream will be from the outlet of the earlier one. These networks of water bodies are visible when driving into the city from adjoining Thiruvallur or Chengalpattu districts. But the city is different.
The Hon’ble W. Holloway, Puisne Judge of the High Court of Madras, was a product of Haileybury College, that institution that turned out Civil Servants for employment in India. Arriving in India in 1849, Holloway was first stationed in Thanjavur and then, in 1853, became the Registrar of the Sudder Court. Thereafter he was -appointed to various judicial positions in Malabar. While there, he studied the local systems and practices assiduously, and became an expert on the customs of the region.
It was during this time that the functioning of the mofussil courts came in for a lot of criticism and Holloway, stung to the quick, wrote an elaborate defence of it. The work titled A Madras Civilian’s Defence of the Mofussil Courts of India, was kept under wraps. Holloway, -wanting to steal a march on his detractors, most notable of whom was John Bruce Norton, Bar-at-Law. The book was despatched by the mail packet from Madras, to be delivered in London via Southampton.