The verdant 16-acre Directorate of Public Instruction campus is under threat. The Government is planning to construct a Knowledge Park on the site. There is uncertainty about the heritage buildings in the precinct – the Madras Literary Society, the Directorate of Anglo-Indian Schools, and the two entrance archways, a splendid one facing the river.
The proposed Knowledge Park will come up over a 100,000 sq m area in the campus and integrate under one roof the various Directorates that come under the Department of Primary Education. Currently all of these operate from various buildings within the campus. The proposed office building will have conference halls, mini-conference halls, a video conferencing room, a waiting area, a computer centre, a server room, a files storage room, a reference section, and an adequate number of restrooms. The students of +2 from both government and private schools will be provided with an incubation centre modelled like a skill development centre, offering an opportunity to students to have hands-on experience in various skills, which can be practised by them once they complete their schooling. The Park will also house student counselling and career counselling centres.
While all this is to the good, the question that is uppermost in the minds of many concerns the location. With the IT Corridor being designated the place for software development, research and other knowledge-based pursuits, why is the Government not building its new DPI facility there? The Kotturpuram-Taramani belt still has a considerable amount of open space left, they point out, which can be used for this purpose. Such a move would also involve minimum dislocation to the various departments that function out of the present DPI campus. The current plan requires each of these to look for alternative accommodation while the demolition and reconstruction takes place. This is most impractical as securing temporary space to house offices and files on such a large scale will not be easy.
As regards the heritage buildings, the Government had in January announced that those designated as such will be protected and the proposed building will be planned around them. Since then, however, there is almost total silence on what exactly is being planned. All this is rather ironic, for several of the heritage structures here – the main building, the arch facing College Road and the MLS – have all gone through a fairly extensive restoration exercise at considerable expense. If these are now to be demolished, it would be a waste of public money, not that such considerations have mattered much with our Governments. Even if they are saved, they will lose much of their value when their setting is irretrievably altered, as may be seen in the case of Rajaji Hall, which now looks almost incongruous behind the vast Assembly-cum-Secretariat, now being transformed into a hospital.
There is also concern at the considerable loss of green cover that is likely to happen. The space is one of the few lungs that the city has. Employees of the DPI have in the past two years undertaken the task of identifying the trees on the campus. Most bear boards with their names written in English and Tamil. This wealth of vegetation is also under threat, given that the plans are for a huge monolithic multi-storeyed structure. If the trees go, it would be an irreplaceable loss for Chennai, which is yet to recover from the denuding of Government Estate on Mount Road.
While educationists and historians have cried foul over the plans for the DPI campus, officialdom is silent. It is reliably learnt that the bureaucracy favours such mega-projects as this one and the protests of a few are unlikely to fall on favourable ears.