There can be no argument on Metro Rail being a much-needed solution to the traffic problems of Chennai. It is a mammoth project that will change the face of the city as we know it. In such circumstances, it is necessary that all stakeholders are taken into confidence thereby making the change as painless as possible.
In the current situation however, it appears that our city's heritage will be the biggest casualty. And definitely, heritage is an important stakeholder though it does not have much of a voice. Some of the best known landmarks of the city are going to be impacted for certain; while others are likely to make way either in full or in part.
The city's heritage structures presently have a modicum of protection afforded by a judgement concerning Bharat Insurance Building, a fine example of Indo-Saracenic architecture at its celebratory best. The owners, LIC, decided to demolish this edifice and the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) challenged this in court — a recourse that the latter has taken in several other instances with varying degrees of success.
Writ petition by INTACH
The Chennai Metro Rail on Friday submitted before the Madras High Court that it would not touch that portion of the P. Orr & Sons on Anna Salai which has been declared as a heritage structure. Recording the submission by the company's counsel, a Division Bench comprising Justices Elipe Dharma Rao and M. Venugopal posted a writ petition filed by the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) for further arguments on March 19.
The INTACH prayed the court to restrain the authorities from demolishing, modifying or altering any part of the heritage structure.
The petitioner submitted that the building was designed by Robert Chisholm, consulting architect to the then Madras Government, who also designed the Madras University Senate House, Victoria Public Hall and the Central Railway Station. The structure was constructed in 1873. The authorities failed to see that the building was a Grade I heritage structure and that its value should not be permitted to be diminished in any manner. The Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority and the Chennai Corporation erred in permitting a part of the building to be demolished for Metrorail without considering the building's heritage value.