The State Government has firmly rejected all suggestions that it should continue to operate some of its departments from the recently built assembly cum secretariat building. It has been decided that Fort St George will be its home and the reasons being given for this are that the new building is yet incomplete and that there is an enquiry pending on alleged irregularities in the construction. If that decision is irrevocable then the Government also ought to specify as to what its plans are for the building. It does not make sense to have a vast edifice standing empty after a huge amount of money has been spent on its construction.
You just need to walk down Mount Road to notice that the building is already going to seed. The neon signs announcing that this was indeed the State Secretariat and Assembly having been removed. The gardens are devoid of any security and at night the building is completely dark with no lights anywhere on the campus. This way the structure will soon fall prey to vandals. Its vast size also means that it has the potential for unlawful activities and may become the den of anti-socials. The area to the rear is still under development and there is no clear-cut plan on what is to come up there.
What is ironic is that the State Government is eternally in need of space. Several of its departments are functioning from rented premises in various parts of the city. Accepting the Government’s argument that it is impossible to have departments functioning from two locations (the Fort and the new Assembly) implies that having some of the offices in far-flung locations is equally inconvenient. Surely these can be accommodated in the new Secretariat? We also have Metro Rail Limited, which has for the purposes of its office taken over a vast and verdant campus in Nandanam belonging to the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University. Surely this Government sponsored company can fit all its departments into the new Secretariat thereby sparing the Nandanam property? At least we will this way have some use for a building that has cost us Rs 1000 crores and more.
Any property requires maintenance and that will happen in the new Secretariat only if it is occupied. If it is left to the elements, it will soon decay and as and when a Government decides to move in, a huge amount of expenditure will be incurred in refurbishing the place. That can certainly be avoided if the building is peopled from the start.
The Government may well want to take a leaf from the neighbouring State of Karnataka. When in the 1950s the Vidhan Soudha was being constructed, there were allegations of irregularities against the then Chief Minister Kengal Hanumanthiah. But this did not mean that the building had to be abandoned. It was put to good use and has remained a landmark of Bangalore. The new Assembly cum Secretariat in Chennai too promises to become a landmark, but of a different kind – as a symbol of the partisan politics that our State specialises in.