Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXXI No. 16, December 1-15, 2021
The recent collapse of Last House on Snob’s Alley in Fort St. George has only exposed the outdated way of functioning of the Archaeological Survey of India. It would appear that this so-called custodian of ancient monuments is now functioning in a manner that is in contravention of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act of 1958, which mandates that the ASI ‘administers and maintains’ any ancient building under its purview. That the ASI, far from doing so, has only been neglecting structures such as the Last House is more than evident from the manner in which the building deteriorated in less than a decade. Certainly if this is any indication, it is high time the ASI is given a new direction and a new definition for functioning, with better accountability.
As the adjoining box shows, the Last House on Snob’s Alley, was until the 1990s, a seemingly healthy structure. Your editor, who has had occasion to repeatedly visit the place recalls when the entire area was free of vegetation. You could walk around the building and thereby gain access to the front walls of Fort St. George. And then, sometime in the last decade or so, the building began to show rapid signs of decay. It was denied even the most basic maintenance and gradually it lost its balcony, and all of its windows and doors. As to what happened to these is a mystery. A mute witness to all this depredation was the ASI’s blue board, which if the organization is to be believed, is a charm that protects from all hazards the buildings and structures by the side of which it is placed. No other maintenance work is deemed necessary.
By January 2019, the building was clearly on its way out. An investigative feature by DT Next revealed that between 2014 and 2018 it had been sanctioned Rs 1.08 L (or around Rs 20,000 per year) for maintenance and that a Director of the ASI had declared that it could not be restored and recommended that it be removed from the list of protected monuments. Is that all that it takes for a building to be delisted? What about accountability for the years of neglect that brought it to a condition beyond restoration? And was it really beyond restoration? Who had scientifically done a study to declare this? What of the ASI’s famed reputation in the past for painstaking restoration?
The Smart Cities Mission launched by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) turned six years old in June this year. Chennai’s smart city initiative is a year younger than its contemporaries but has launched multiple projects in the city. Unfortunately, the relevance of its work has come under question and rightfully so, according to some quarters. The bone of contention lies in the choice of projects launched by the Smart Cities Mission, which many feel ignore basic, underlying civic problems in favour of blue sky solutions. Take, for example, the Pedestrian Plaza at T-Nagar, which was reportedly built at an approximate cost of Rs. 40 crores; key stretches of the locality were reportedly left inundated within an hour of the recent downpours in the city, pointing to the inefficiency of its drainage systems. Or consider the Rs. 24 lakh Namma Chennai selfie point on Marina Beach, a structure of little practical value that stands upon a key natural landmark in dire need of efficient waste management.
Nothing fills us with greater sadness than to present you with this visual record of how a heritage street has declined to ruin. Our Oldest is a 1919 photograph of St Thomas’ Street in Fort St George – you see a long line of buildings on the left, each fronted by a verandah, thereby indicating that the street retained its residential character of buildings even then. True they were all offices, but the structures remained.
April 14th, 2021 marked 50 years since the founding of SuperFlame, an LPG agency in the heart of Nungambakkam, Chennai. For nearly 40 years, a handsome woman clad in a white sari helmed this gas company. Her name was Indira Damodaran and she was the very first woman to become an LPG distributor in this city. While she may have obtained the distributorship because her husband was the Deputy General Manager of Indian Oil Corporation when he died, the way Super Flame grew and succeeded as a business was due to her hard work and perseverance.
“It is our principle to take money from the dancers to give them an opportunity at our December festival” blurted out the secretary of a sabha in Chennai.
The group of people around the table froze.
It was a meeting to draw the budget of the December festival of a Chennai sabha and to find sponsors for the same.