The judgements of the High Court of Madras have gone a long way in helping the heritage movement in the city. Landmark judgements have been received in several cases such as those filed against the demolition of the DGP Building, Gokhale Hall and Bharat Insurance Building and the outdoor hoardings issue. And yet it would appear that all is not in order when it comes to the historic building in which the High Court itself is located. And it is architecturally and otherwise one of the most significant structures of the city.
Following reports that the High Court building was not convenient for the physically challenged, the Public Works Department initiated the construction of a ramp for which they demolished a part of the stone balustrade lining the corridor of the main building. The ramp itself was welcomed but several advocates and others who are familiar with the campus have expressed the opinion that this could have been done in a fashion that was more sensitive to the architecture of the place. The continuous pressure for space and the demand for various amenities have ensured that the High Court campus has been subject to several ad-hoc constructions and modifications. A few years ago, it was decided that the Court Halls would be air-conditioned and to provide for this, walls were drilled and massive ducts were installed, all of them presenting a very unappealing appearance.
Inside the building, toilets have been constructed at various places and recently, the PWD had drilled a hole on a massive pillar supporting the main structure in order to position a PVC pipe that was to act as a drain. This was objected to by those who are part of the heritage committee that looks into the welfare of the building and it was hurriedly sealed.
The heritage and environment committee of the Madras High Court was set up in 2007 by the then Chief Justice, AP Shah. Comprising judges, lawyers and INTACH members, it was to plan a phased restoration of the campus, on the lines of what was done at Senate House. This was to be completed by 2012, when the High Court of Madras will celebrate 150 years of its charter and the 120th year of the edifice in which it is housed. And after that, restoration was to be taken up at all courts in the state. It is not clear as to whether this committee has kept up its initial enthusiasm and as to whether any restoration work is in progress. As in many other cases in our country, this idea too appears to have become a victim of the pressure of day-to-day activities.
It is to be hoped that the High Court will live up to its plans and with at least a year and a half to go for the sesquicentennial, it will be good if the restoration work is begun right away after consulting experts.
It is but appropriate at this juncture to quote from what Lord Wenlock said when on 12th
July 1892 he declared the present High Court buildings open. The Governor declared that Madras “has reason to be proud of the habitation in which the administration of justice will be carried out. For beauty of design and for perfection of execution there is nothing or very little to be desired”. It is up to the present occupants to ensure that this remains true for all times to come.