Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXX No. 8, August 16-31, 2020

Heritage Watch

Where Governors once resided

It was in 2008 that the High Court of Madras decreed that around 400 buildings of the city merited heritage status. A Heritage Conservation Committee was formed under the auspices of the CMDA and it was mandated to come out with an action plan to protect these structures. Bureaucracy managed to stifle all the noble intents in that judgement while on paper fulfilling every requirement in it. The entire HCC was populated with bureaucrats and those with Government affiliations. The Committee hardly ever met and after several delays managed to send out letters to the owners of the listed buildings, all of which stated that they could do nothing with the structures in their possession. Many were quite happy to oblige, for they could that way give up bare maintenance as well and wait for the buildings to collapse.

Government House, left and Banqueting Hall right, from a 19th Century
print.

The State Government had a bigger agenda. That was when the new Assembly cum Secretariat was being planned and in the Government Estate, which was the site, there were as many as six individual structures listed in the judgement. Five of these were demolished, leaving Rajaji (Banqueting) Hall the sole survivor. The biggest loss was of Government House, once the city residence of the Governors of Madras, later used as an MLAs hostel and finally with the police. A building that held within it over 250 years of Madras history, for it was acquired from the Madra family that owned it in the 1750s, it was quickly done away with. The new Secretariat did come up, but was used very briefly as such, for a succeeding Government changed it into a hospital.

Most ironically, the High Court judgement classified Government House under grade 1 – of national importance and a prime landmark. But what do you do when the Government drives the bulldozer?

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