Work on the Metro Railway is progressing without pause and in its relentless wake it is likely that several heritage buildings are likely to be affected. Some will have to bear the brunt of digging, drilling and construction in their vicinity and later suffer the vibrations caused by the continuous movement of rolling stock. Now the latest is that many of them are likely to be completely obscured by the construction of stations that will mask their facades. What is worse, such a construction will be in direct contravention of the recommendations of the Padmanabhan Committee on hoardings which stated that nothing ought to come up in front of heritage structures.

The Heritage Conservation Committee constituted by the Government following a judgement of the High Court of Madras, has been looking into the matter. It is learnt that a sub-committee constituted to look into the designs of the stations has found that some of the vents and entrance porches to the stations were not only visually intrusive but also dangerously close to the heritage structures in the vicinity. For instance vents of the proposed station near the Law College will be just two metres away from the college building. The height is also around five metres and thus it will mask a part of the building. Similar concerns have been highlighted with respect to the station near the Ripon Building and Victoria Public Hall. Another structure that is likely to be affected is the Tamil Wesley Church in Mannady. It is learnt that the concerns of the sub-committee have been passed on to the Metro Railway authorities who are studying ways and means of overcoming the problem.

While it is good that the matter is being debated and discussed without allowing the Metro Railway to bulldoze its way through, what is of concern is that all this may end in a spirit of compromise with more give than take on the part of the Heritage Conservation Committee, having as it does a majority of Government servants in it. This could have been avoided had there been a Heritage Act in place with clear guidelines on what can be done and what is not permitted in the vicinity of heritage structures. In the absence of such legislations, it is all open to interpretation and going by past experience it is unlikely that the results would be in favour of the heritage structures.

Bangalore, which is also a city that has no law for protecting its heritage, has progressed a great deal on its Metro. There, the heritage buildings have had to bear the brunt of the constructions and those that have survived are completely hidden behind monstrous stations and elevated rail tracks. In many places, sewer and storm-water drains have been put up very close to architecturally significant buildings, marring their beauty forever. This cannot be allowed to happen in the case of our city.

It is to be hoped that the Conservation Committee will prove firm in its dealings with the Metro. The Committee should also be pressing the Government for a legislation to protect heritage. This was in fact one of the mandates of the Committee that has rather conveniently been given the go-by. Can we hope for some positive action before it is too late?