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Vol. XXVII No. 6, July 1-15, 2017

Our Readers Write

Ready for rain?

The ways of the Chennai Corporation for flood prevention during the monsoon are indeed inscrutable.
On heavily traversed Habibullah Road in T’Nagar, they built a stormwater drain not on the pavement but on the road itself, placing U-shaped precast RCC pieces in excavated pits, cementing the joints, covering them with flat covers and cementing their joints. But for rainwater to enter the drain, only in a few places over the entire stretch from Thirumalai Road to Usman Road, the adjoining covers were laid with a few inches of space and in a few other places, a 4″ dia PVC pipe was laid into the cover! A few months later, the road was given a fresh coat of tar and the entire drain was covered with tar. Some months later, a similar drain was laid on Giri Road, from Thirumalai Road to G.N. Road and this one had no such entry points for water. Only a few covered man-holes were provided and the drain was covered with tar.

A year ago, on the entire stretch of Thirumalai Road an 8″ dia serrated pipe was laid at a depth of one foot with small cemented pits at every 20 feet or so which were connected to the stormwater drain. All this apparently was to provide additional drainage capacity. But in the process, the pavement in many places was extended by 1½ feet to accommodate this drain, reducing the road width that much on this road with heavy traffic! The crowning piece is that all these pits today are full of leaves conveniently swept into them by the cleaning staff of the Corporation!

We are thus ready for the monsoon.

Indukanth Ragade

The black kites

The report on Haliastur indus (Accipitridae) in Madras (MM, June 16th) brought pleasant memories of seeing populations (12-15 at one time) of Milvus migrans govinda (the black kite), equally fascinating large predatory birds of Accipitridae. On the days I used to walk from the Entomology Research Institute to the gate of Loyola College, before 1996, I have invariably seen, especially in monsoon months and immediately after, these birds resting on the sprawling college cricket field, with one of their wings spread out in an effort to dry it. I loved seeing these elegant birds from a distance, since their majestic appearance always made me feel good.

Dr. A. Raman

Endangered species

A propos the article (by T.Murugavel, MM June 16-30th) , there is a painful decline in numbers and survival of the Brahminy Kite. Other than creating a public awareness through “A very rare Visitor”, there must be an integrated effort at wetland habitat restoration. Various organisations like MNS and Greenpeace should  join hands to, at the least, save this rare and colourful, and also essential predator of rivers and estuaries from total extinction in the Chennai habitat.

I have been well aware of the disappearance of this Brahminy Kite for some years. The reasons may be obvious: habitat destruction, pollution of the Adyar river, oil spills and soon.

If we could attract this bird back to it’s normal habitat – it would be a yeoman service to Avifauna conservation. Please spare a thought for this bird, fighting for species survival. Kudos to Murugavel for spotlighting this rare visitor.

K. Karunanidhi

Save the Senate House

I am compelled to break my long silence on seeing your open letter to the VC of the University of Madras (MM, June 1st). Appreciating your sustained concern about Senate House (SH) for more than four decades, I wish to reveal some facts and events, a quarter century ago, which have remained hidden. You have a policy of usually not mentioning names of persons, but I believe mentioning names on positive matters is essential. Accordingly, I owe very much to two of my predecessors for my interest in SH, Dr. B. B. Sunderesan (1984-87), an engineer, and Dr. A. Gnanam (1987-90) a biologist.

BBS did some basic work in assessing the damage in SH. At his request, I asked Prof. Md. Harris of the School of Architecture to, through a student project, collect and document this data accordingly with maps to indicate the exact locations of damage. BBS put the renovation of SH in the budget and sought funds from the UGC. Dr. Gnanam followed it up and got a Rs. 10 lakh UGC grant, on condition that the State Government provided a matching grant. The State Government did not consider it a priority and was not forthcoming.

I took over on November 26, 1990. The then Government was dissolved on January 30, 1991. However, motivated by the previous VC’s initiatives, I decided to act. There were five Government Secretaries in the 21-strong Syndicate. They never took SH as a serious subject. You can’t do much without their support, particularly that of the Secretaries of Education, and, more so, of Finance. Yet, without looking for government support, not even informing the Syndicate, a mistake I realised later, I initiated a ‘Save the Senate House’ movement.

It was prompted by a philanthropist, M.A. Chidambaram Chettiar. He came unannounced to my bungalow one evening, probed my interest in SH and, getting a positive response, asked about the funds needed. At that time Rs. one crore or so was the estimate. He promised to mobilise Rs. 52 lakh of which his organisation would give Rs. 10 lakh. This was a great encouragement. How many know this, even the University. He, then, wanted me to address 43 people, having in mind a donation of Rs. one lakh each.

Though I could have done this on my own, I thought differently. I urgently formed a committee of former VCs of the University of Madras, with Dr. Malcom Adhiseshiah, as Chairman and I, the then VC, as Secretary together with Dr. NDS (though bed-ridden), Dr. Santhappa, Dr. BBS and Dr. Gnanam as members. Dr. GRD was no more then. On a specially printed letterhead with a leaflet titled, Save the Senate House, letters were shot out. MAC had put in a word to many, but fund flow was not encouraging; not even from him as promised. I met him to find out the reason and he explained his difficulties. Yet, he wanted me to proceed. I am keeping as a treasure an encouraging letter accompanying Rs. one lakh from Suresh Krishna of TVS, then the Sheriff of Madras, who was involved with the uphill task of renovating Victoria Hall, and who was aware of what was meant by renovation of heritage buildings, like VH and SH.

Meanwhile, I addressed all employees of the University departments, both faculty and supporting staff, to cooperate in this project and as token of that contribute one month’s salary in ten easy instalments. Pleasantly, all, except one department, agreed. I also requested all colleges affiliated to the University to contribute – Arts & Science colleges Rs. 25,000 each and Engineering colleges Rs. one lakh each. All did so, while Satyabhama and New College paid two lakhs each. This amounted to Rs. 26 lakh. I was aiming at Rs. 40 lakh. What was wrong with this? With the approval of all the bodies of the University, I introduced a Development Fee of Rs. 20 each on all the entering students in colleges and University every year and, in turn, offering SH to the colleges to conduct programmes. It amounted to Rs. 16 lakh then. This I thought would again increase year after year and take care of the future maintenance of SH forever. Whether this fact was not put on paper or the paper was removed from the file, the money so collected was lost, going into Account B, meant for day-to-day University expenditure. This fact came to my notice only after I had left.

I constituted a Technical Committee too, with Dr. P. Sivalingam, retired Chief Engineer General (PWD) and first VC of Anna University, as Chairman. On his advice, experts from SERC, IITM, PWD, INTACH (Deborah Thiagarajan) and an architect (P.T. Krishnan) were included. The Chairman directed the team first to check the soundness and safety of the foundation and of the brick columns to ensure the worthiness of renovating SH. An amount of Rs. 6 lakh was spent to dig the ground. It was found that the foundation was sound. When a layer of bricks was removed from a column, it was noticed that the layer was only ornamental over strong steel girder structures and a protective layer to prevent corrosion. Hence, the columns were also safe. The committee gave the signal to go ahead. They also started working out the materials needed – to get Cambridge bricks from a Kerala original manufacturer and tinted glass from the UK – and the modus operandi.

That is when my term of office ended. For about a year, the VC’s post was vacant. Then Dr. P.K. Ponnusamy took over. He perhaps did not think the committees were necessary. Meanwhile, A.M.M. Arunachalam wrote to Dr. Malcom Adhiseshiah, heading a dormant committee, to return his donation of Rs. one lakh, since nothing worthwhile was happening. Dr. Adhiseshiah, in turn wrote a strong letter to the VC, who was then the Secretary of a non-functional committee. The VC urgently called for details from the Registrar, who was not really involved in the matter. The VC had his own problems. The matter rested there.

The VCs who followed did not consider this a subject until Dr. S.P. Thyagarajan shouldered the burden. One VC even went to the extent of remarking that people are too concerned about this ‘katta mannu’. It was on arrival of Dr. Thyagarajan that SH saw some light. I am sure he remembers my serious and sincere efforts when he worked with me for the development of the University in general and SH in particular. He was fortunate that the Post Centenary Golden Jubilee fell during his tenure. The UGC was granting liberally for buildings and other developments. He took efforts to tap financial and moral support from other sources too.* The renovated building was opened by President Abdul Kalam. I refused to attend the function because some unconnected people, especially the HOD who refused not only his donation but also threateningly urged his colleagues to follow suit, were to be on the dais while I was to be the audience.

Regarding your concern about curator and maintenance, I wish to state that I was also concerned. I visited Brighton Palace at London, which was to be sold and demolished. The town people jointly opposed it; saved it; renovated it to become a popular tourist centre. I collected information and handed over to Deborah Thiagarajan, on her request, a booklet of the history of renovation of Brighton Palace. From the Curator’s office, I received on mail, the procedures they followed for day-to-day, weekly, monthly and annual maintenance, and emergency and occasional maintenances. This, I handed over to the Registrar to clip to the relevant file.

Now, we cannot wait until the public, including me and you, Mr. Editor, spot from Anna Samadhi, the trees growing on SH and alert the University. Urgent action is needed. I thank you for your timely reminder through your open letter, to the newly appointed VC. He should take steps as you sketched and also seek help from the previous VCs who were interested in SH.

S. Sathik
Former Vice-Chancellor
University of Madras
(The initiator of the ‘Save the Senate House’ movement)
Chennai 600 020

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. SPT formed a five-person committee to supervise the Senate House restoration project and it collected the bulk of the money (a few crore) needed for the restoration and saw to it that it was spent well. A solemn understanding entered into it with the University went to nought with the arrival of subsequent VCs.

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