The High Court of Madras, it is reliably learnt, has written to the Indian National Trust for Arts and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) to take up the restoration of five heritage buildings under its jurisdiction. This has come as a shot in the arm for heritage structures in general. It also marks a welcome thaw in relations between INTACH and the High Court, to both their benefits. Certainly, the High Court has demonstrated its faith in the competence and bonafides of INTACH and INTACH will need to reciprocate this with a meticulous completion of restoration.
The High Court of Madras had as early as 2008 begun the process of assessing the feasibility of restoration of five structures – the George Town Metropolitan Magistrate’s Court, the Small Causes Court in the High Court campus, the Egmore Metropolitan Magistrate’s Court, the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate’s Court, Egmore, and the Saidapet Court. Conservation architects from INTACH were entrusted with the task and their assessment was handed over to the High Court a year later.
It is understood that funds for the restoration have been sanctioned by the Central Government and work is to be undertaken on a war footing if deadlines and budgets are to be met. It is understood that INTACH Delhi will handle the project, as the financial value of the restoration is much above the ceiling up to which the local chapter can handle projects. The High Court is expected to shortly receive INTACH’s letter of acceptance.
While the development is welcome, there are several challenges ahead. First, among these challenges is the question of finding alternative space for the shifting of the courts, for all these buildings are currently very much in use. Secondly, the time duration, it is said, is quite short and will mean that INTACH will have to depute as many of its resources as possible to take it on. Thirdly, it is learnt that one or two of the buildings have structural challenges that will necessitate quick decisions and perhaps involve escalation of budgeted costs and estimates as time progresses. Overall it is going to be a learning exercise for both, the High Court and INTACH.
Hopefully, if this is successful, the High Court may feel enthused to take up the restoration of its own premises. In 2007, a heritage committee comprising judges, lawyers and INTACH members was set up to study issues facing the main building. It is not known how active the committee is and what its deliberations have been. Perhaps the proposed restoration plans will breathe some new life and dynamism into that committee and see a splendid restoration of the great piece of built heritage that is the Madras High Court. What better gift can we wish and hope coinciding with the 150th year of the High Court?