Rajaji Hall threatened by foundations of new Assembly building


The latest reports on the ongoing construction activity for the new Assembly building at Government Estate indicate that Rajaji Hall may be threatened by the laying of foundations for the proposed structure. If work continues and the building weakens, it would mean a clean sweep of all heritage buildings inside Government Estate. The two hundred year old Rajaji Hall (formerly Banqueting Hall) is the sole remnant in that enclave which once boasted of several other buildings as well. But in the absence of a Heritage Act, there is very little that can be done to protect the building.


The construction agency that has been awarded the contract for building the new Assembly is now working on the foundations and using a technique known as driven piles foundation which sends shock waves that vibrate outward. This work is now ongoing at less than 20 feet from Rajaji Hall. Experts have opined that the alternate method of bored piles ought to have been used as the present technique is only meant for places which have a lot of space between successive buildings. The new Assembly is designed to have driven piles at a number of spots and this only increases the danger to Rajaji Hall.


The Madras High Court has clearly laid down directives and strictures regarding the use of driven piles within city limits. The new method for laying foundations may also be in contravention to this. The Government has responded by saying that it will build a seven foot trench separating Rajaji Hall from the site. But this according to experts is simply not enough.


The danger to Rajaji Hall comes at a time when the Government has already faced considerable flak for demolishing Government House, the erstwhile seat of the Governors of Madras for over 250 years, for building the new Assembly. It had also demolished Gandhi Illam, formerly a guest-house on Government Estate which later housed a museum commemorating the father of the nation. Responding to criticism the Government had declared that Kalaivanar Arangam and Rajaji Hall would not be demolished. A few months later, it was decided that Kalaivanar Arangam would have to go in view of modifications in the plans for the new Assembly. Now it is the turn of Rajaji Hall.


The Hall, which has been witness to many historic functions was restored at enormous expense a few months ago and had been a vibrant venue for several events involving the public at large. One of the criticisms against locating the new Assembly here was that the Hall would become inaccessible. But now with its very existence being in doubt, matters look very bleak indeed.


The continued inaction on the part of successive state governments in getting a Heritage Act in place has resulted in Chennai city losing out on most of its architectural landmarks. A list of such buildings together with a draft Heritage Act has been with the Government for long. A committee appointed by the Government to look into the listing of all heritage buildings possessed by the Government is yet to make its report. In the absence of any development, buildings like Rajaji Hall can only look to heritage lovers and enthusiasts for support.