The travails of the Bharat Insurance (formerly Kardyl) Building do not seem to end. After a half-done demolition, the High Court of Madras ordered its preservation. This was challenged in the Supreme Court by the LIC, the owner of the premises. It is now reliably learnt that the Metrorail is eyeing a part of the precinct, though not the building proper, for some of its super structures. What is emerging is a rather murky story of collusion between various concerned Government agencies and departments, even as the fate of the premises remains sub judice.
Work on the Anna Salai stretch of the Metrorail has begun. And the fate of the various heritage structures en route is a matter of intense speculation. On the one hand, there is pressure to go ahead with the Metro’s plans, all in the name of providing a viable public transport system. On the other hand, this is being interpreted to mean that the Metro must have its way irrespective of what is likely to be its impact or, at least, that is what the powers that be appear to believe. And the curious instance of the Bharat Insurance Building is a case in point.
It is understood that Metrorail has requested for and is close to getting a part of the compound space in which Bharat Insurance Building is located. The matter has been referred to the Heritage Conservation Committee which, it is understood, has chosen to interpret that the garden space of the property cannot be deemed a part of heritage value and so can be made over to Metrorail. This flies in the face of the internationally accepted principle that the space surrounding a heritage building automatically becomes a heritage precinct, which needs to be protected if the structure is to be presented as an integral whole.
Moreover, the space currently in question is not exactly empty. It has outhouses of the main building proper and one or two of these are still tenanted. These occupants, who have stubbornly refused to vacate, no matter what the blandishments of the owners, have, it is understood, been served with an ultimatum to vacate. The reason given for this is that Metrorail work will soon commence in the precinct and so the owners cannot be held responsible for any damage suffered by the tenants.
What is surprising is that all this has taken place even when the question of what is to be done to the building is pending with the Supreme Court. Surely Metrorail, the LIC and the CMDA are aware of the consequences of contempt of court? Then how is it that matters have proceeded with such alacrity and with such a complete lack of transparency? What is also worthy of comment is the complete volte-face of the HCC. In one of its early meetings with the Metrorail, it had, it is reliably learnt, documented that no intrusion into Bharat Insurance Building premises was allowable. Now it has chosen to change its stance based on an interpretation of what exactly constitutes a premises! Such are the inscrutable ways of Government.
The same principle has been applied to P Orr & Sons. It is understood that the HCC has given the go-ahead for acquiring a part of the rear buildings of this heritage structure on the ground that “the backside” is not to be taken into account for heritage considerations. This was also the logic that was applied to the take-over of the Lawrence Asylum Press to the rear of the Poompuhar property. Soon, it appears, Anna Salai that was Mount Road will have a series of cardboard heritage facades, all denuded of their bulk which lend them character. This is nothing but a sham in the name of heritage conservation.
But when a Heritage Conservation Committee is almost entirely populated by bureaucrats and representatives of organisations with governmental links, and considers its agenda to be not that of preservation but one of permitting to demolish, what else is to be expected?