Close on the heels of the demolition of Binny’s Building on Armenian Street, the old D’Angelis building, which stood at the corner of Anna Salai and Blackers Road has been ground to dust. Those not so familiar with its past will know of it as Bosotto’s or, better still, associate it with the Bata Showroom that functioned for long from its ground floor. That it was not in any weakened condition is evident from the fact that it has taken more than a year to bring it down. That the High Court of Madras listed the structure as Grade 2a in the Justice Padmanabhan committee report obviously did not offer any protection to it. It just goes to show that the builder-bureaucrat nexus can thwart any legal ruling. There will always be a way. That the core of the building dated to 1906, has also not made any difference.
The exterior of the building had undergone considerable alteration in the hands of several successive owners. But the interior, apart from sections gutted by a fire that invariably comes to all heritage buildings in the city, retained much of its original grandeur. INTACH had even graded its state of maintenance as fair as late as in 2006. From then to demolition within a decade is monstrous to say the least.
Rather ironically, it is this modified exterior that is being retained after the interiors have all gone. This is to comply with the Government’s interpretation of the High Court order that it is only the facade of a building that needs to be protected.
The Heritage Conservation Committee of the CMDA is wholly to blame for this situation. Given that the other Heritage Committee following the passing of the Heritage Act by the Tamil Nadu Assembly in 2010 was never constituted, the earlier body evidently still remains in operation. But in a decade and more of its existence it has done precious little. Mandated to study and notify the 400-odd buildings listed as being of heritage value by the High Court in 2006 , it never went about this task. For a start it declined to accept the list that had been put together by INTACH and agreed to in toto by the High Court. Had this been done, a lot of time would have been saved, as would countless heritage structures. On the other hand, the Committee is still debating on the best way to identify and list the structures and has, when it felt like it, enlisted college students for assistance. The net result is that ten buildings or so (out of 400!) have made it to a list, after ten years. As to which ones these are has never been made public.
The State Government, indifferent as it is to most matters requiring attention, can hardly be expected to pay any attention to a subject like heritage, branded as it has been for long as elitist. Given such a scenario, it is no wonder that private developers are making merry. Rumour has it that other buildings on the hit list include Leith Castle and the Government Hobart School. If matters continue this way, there will be very little to showcase of our past.
It is high time that the Government is pressurised to act on preserving heritage. Such lobbying has been at an all time low ever since the adverse judgement delivered in the matter of the P Orr & Sons annexe building demolition. That needs to be firmly put in the past and action has to be taken. For a start, INTACH needs to approach the Courts and bring to their notice that their judgement of 2006 on heritage buildings has rapidly been reduced to nought. The Courts need to question the Government on what it is doing to protect heritage. If a ‘Traffic’ Ramaswamy can by sheer perseverance make a change in the NSC Bose Road area, cannot a heritage movement that claims to have many foot soldiers achieve more?
For full details of the history behind this building, click here