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Vol. XXIX No. 20 , February 1-15, 2020

Archives: Vol. XXIX No. 20 , February 1-15, 2020

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Making a Sham of Heritage Conservation

by The Editor

What makes for heritage conservation if a structure is generally believed to be of ‘aesthetic, architectural and cultural merit’? The best would be for the edifice to be preserved in its entirety and put to adaptive reuse. The next best would be for it to be retained and turned into a museum of some kind, though this is really not a viable option in India where countless badly run museums proliferate with hardly any footfalls. The worst option, just short of outright demolition, would be to leave the façade standing and paint it regularly so that it looks well preserved. And yet this is precisely the kind of ‘plastic conservation’ that our State appears to specialise in, and the most recent example is what has happened to the Raja Sir Savalai Ramaswami Mudaliar Choultry that stands just opposite the Central Station (see Heritage Watch alongisde).

Constructed in 1888 by the eponymous businessman and philanthropist, the precinct was meant to provide transit accommodation for people who arrived in the city by train. The land was leased from the Government and the facility, housed in a beautiful Indo Saracenic structure, was administered by a private trust which in the 1970s made way for the Official Trustee of the High Court who managed the space with a descendant of the founder as a co-trustee. By then the need for a choultry having faded, the place was leased out to a hotel.

In 2006, the building was included in the Justice E. Padmanabhan Committee report that listed out structures that could not be hidden behind large public hoardings in the city. The same report became the basis of the 2006 judgement of the High Court of Madras which ordered the State Government to explore the necessity to protect around 400 heritage structures in the city with the formation of a Heritage Conservation Committee to oversee the task and also pass a heritage act for the State.

While the State Government dithered over the matter, taking its own time to pass the Act, setting up a toothless Convservation Committee in the interim, disbanding the same later and never forming a new one thereafter, the High Court, with all due respect to it, watered down its 2006 judgement in 2010 by choosing to interpret that the Padmanabhan Committee report was intended only for facades and had nothing to with other parts of heritage buildings. That was in the P Orr & Sons case and this was exactly the kind of loophole that bureaucracy was waiting for.

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Heritage Watch

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Our old dating to 1928 is of the RSRM Choultry in all its glory, just 40 years after it was built. Our not so new dates to 2008, when the building was run as a hotel, and was well‑maintained, all its wings in full use.

Our new, dating to 2020 and taken by Rahul Jaywant Bhise, a student of the Asian College of Journalism, shows the façade in all its glory but now a hollow shell, with the rest of the building having been done away with.

The E. Padmanabhan Committee Report classified this building (no 156, page 243) as belonging to category 2a – a structure possessing aesthetic, cultural and architectural merit. Sadly only the façade has been considered worthy of retention.

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City Traffic and Ways to Keep it in Control

by A Special Correspondent

If God were to offer one gift relating to our city, to be granted instantly upon asking, there is a high probability that many of us would want a noise-free, pollution-free, smooth movement of traffic and pedestrians on the roads. A sample of such peace on the roads can be experienced on the days of flash strikes by auto-rickshaws. That is some indication of the role of autos in traffic chaos.

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When a Neighbourhood Celebrates

The annual Sundaram Finance Mylapore Festival was held between January 9-12, 2020. Given below are some of the programmes that took place during the event.

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The Inner Vision gets recognised with a Padmashri

We at Madras Musings are delighted that Manohar Devadoss has been conferred the Padma Shri by the Government of India. We offer our felicitations through this article on him by historian K.R.A. Narasiah.