The poor old Fort! If there is any heritage precinct that is sure to have an identity crisis, it is this one. First was the ding-dong battle on the location of the Assembly. Then came the attempt at getting it listed for World Heritage Status that went nowhere. Now the latest is that the Namakkal Kavingnar Maligai located in the Fort, which is undergoing a Rs. 28 crore restoration, will have a glass front! Nothing more incongruous can be imagined.
In the first place, the building ought to have never been constructed within the Fort. It was constructed around 35 years ago, at a time when awareness on matters concerning heritage was lower than what it is now. Two notified buildings were demolished to make way for it and it stands, a sore thumb sticking out in the Fort. Constructed in the best PWD tradition, it was poorly maintained all along and developed cracks within fifteen years of construction. It was then given a facelift, with a frontage that claimed to be Chola tradition for inspiration. A couple of years ago, the building once again began showing signs of -weakness. At that time, with the new Secretariat on Mount Road supposedly becoming the apple of everyone’s eye, the building was left as it was.
It came into the limelight when Assembly and Secretariat shifted back into the Fort. A high profile launch of the restoration of this building was held and work got underway. A show of consulting relevant departments and INTACH was made. The Chola frontage, it is understood, was the basis on which the Archaeological Survey of India and the Heritage Conservation Committee of the CMDA gave their approval for its restoration. The building, it is understood, has been labelled as an example of early modern construction in the city and, therefore, worthy of preservation. And this has been blessed by the ASI and the HCC, neither of which, it is necessary to point out, has any jurisdiction over the building. If the ASI had gone by the rulebook, such a building would have never been allowed to be built inside the Fort and if the HCC did not behave like a handmaiden of the CMDA, it ought to know that this building is not a heritage structure by any yardstick.
In this connection, it should be pointed out that the Indian National Trust for Arts and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), Chennai Chapter, has observed that the building had no place in the heritage precinct that the Fort is and, therefore, ought to be demolished at once as it completely dwarfs the most important structure of the State – the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly. That observation went unheeded.
Now the latest is the glass front. It is learnt that the building will be airconditioned and given a full plate-glass exterior. Is airconditioning really necessary in a power-starved State? And has any thought been given as to how this will fit in with the centuries-old Fort that surrounds this building? It makes you wonder as to what justifications will be given for preserving this glass front as and when the building needs repairs again in future.