A recent newspaper report reveals that Chennai Metro Rail Limited (CMRL) has moved its barricades 1.5 metres closer to Ripon Building. This in effect means CMRL has taken land over and above what was allocated to it by the Government. While the procedural aspects may get sorted out, what is clear is that Metro work, including drilling and tunnelling, will be much closer to Ripon Building and neighbouring Victoria Public Hall than what was planned earlier. The impact of such work on these two heritage structures is yet to be assessed.
In 2010, the State Government allotted 4500 sq m of land on the Ripon Building campus to CMRL. The Corporation Council gave its assent subsequently. In 2011, 1964 sq m was taken from the Victoria Public Hall campus for the same purpose. The Corporation took umbrage over CMRL boards being put up all around Ripon Building claiming that the area belonged then to CMRL. These were hastily removed. But another request from the Corporation is yet to be paid heed to. This pertains to the impact of tunnelling on the two heritage structures. The Corporation had in October 2012 asked CMRL to begin submitting monthly assessment reports. CMRL is yet to do so.
Earlier this month, the barricades on the erstwhile grounds of Ripon Building moved 1.5 m closer to the structure. CMRL now needs additional land for traffic diversions and has taken over the extra space it needs without the Government permitting it to do so by means of a GO. The Corporation Council’s assent has also not been sought. All this perhaps has something to do with the judgement concerning the land belonging to the Raja Sir Savalai Ramaswami Mudaliar Choultry located opposite Central Station. That space, with its heritage building, was being eyed by CMRL which put up barricades along the property. But with the Court ruling that the takeover can happen only if proper compensation is paid, it is probable that CMRL has given up that plan and opted to take more land on the northern side, from Ripon Building and VP Hall.
The taking over of space is however only a temporary facilitation with CMRL intending to return the land to the two precincts once it completes its work. But what is worrying is the silence regarding the impact of underground work. The same question has been raised in connection with CMRL’s activities near the LIC Building on Mount Road and the Law College near Esplanade. In all cases CMRL has stonewalled beyond a general assurance that all would be well.
The continuing activity near Ripon Building and VP Hall has also put the restoration of these two structures on the backburner. This being Ripon Building’s centenary year, it was hoped that the Rs. 7.7 crore restoration project would be completed in time for a grand celebration. That does not appear likely now. Similarly, VP Hall is being renovated for over four years now, at a cost of Rs. 3.5 crore. That too has slowed down considerably. These structures are clearly not the focus and all resources including land are clearly to be harnessed for a speedy completion of the Metro.
While that is all to the good, it is to be hoped that heritage is not sacrificed in the process.