Shri P Chidambram
The Hon’ble Union Minister for Finance
Government of India
New Delhi 110001
RE: Bharat Insurance Building on Mount Road, Chennai
As you are aware, this building is among the best-known Indo-Saracenic structures that have dominated the skyline of Chennai for a century. It is in an architectural form that took birth in Chennai and which came to dominate the construction style of the British Raj, culminating in New Delhi’s Rashtrapati Bhavan and Secretariat.
The building is owned by the Life Insurance Corporation of India and was rented out to various tenants. Over the years, for want of maintenance, the building became dilapidated. In 1998 LIC vacated the tenants and decided that it would bring down the structure to make way for a multi-storied modern building. The Indian National Trust for Arts and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) had through its Chennai chapter then approached the Chairman of the LIC, the Director, Town and Country Planning, Chennai, and the Chief Planner, CMDA, expressing apprehension over the proposal to demolish the building which, if it occurred, would bring to an end a prime example of Indo-Saracenic architecture. It was also pointed out by INTACH that, in this instance, LIC was acting contrary to its practice in other cities where it has restored and maintained heritage properties.
Consequently, when LIC began the demolition of the building, INTACH approached the High Court of Madras through writ petition 25306 of 2006. The Hon’ble High Court ordered an interim stay on the demolition and asked for a Committee of Experts to inspect the building. LIC in the meanwhile filed a special leave petition at the Supreme Court of India praying for a vacation of the stay. The Hon’ble Supreme Court dismissed this petition stating that it was up to the High Court of Madras to decide on the matter based on the report of the Experts Committee.
The Experts Committee certified in its report that the building could be restored and put to use. The Hon’ble High Court took cognisance of this and also noted that, even as early as 1999, the PWD had, after inspecting the building, advised LIC on its restoration but no action had been taken by the latter.
The High Court in its judgement dated April 29, 2010, addressed a larger issue of heritage conservation and asked the State Government to form a Heritage Conservation Committee (HCC) under the CMDA. It also, while noting that “as far as possible the building must be saved”, left it to the HCC to decide based on a report on what the LIC plans to do.
On Friday, October 19, 2012, the HCC, having gone through the report of the LIC, rejected the plan outright stating that the LIC planned to change the entire structure while it was mandated only to refurbish, retaining the structure in full. The onus is now once again on LIC to restore the building.
It is now six years since the demolition was begun and the building has survived ever since without a roof. It is now showing serious signs of stress, having been subject to several monsoons in the interim. It is our fear that the building may soon collapse owing to neglect, thereby putting to waste all the efforts of heritage lovers to save it.
At this juncture, we, at INTACH Chennai, appeal to you for your intervention. You come from a region known for its rich architecture. You had also on August 24, 2008, while releasing a book on the Connemara Hotel, given an assurance in your speech that the Bharat Insurance Building would not be demolished and be preserved in its entirety. You had also said that the building could be used as a training centre.
We at INTACH, on our part, are prepared to assist the LIC through our conservation experts, on restoring the building to its full glory. We are sure that LIC will commit itself to a full restoration. We would consider it an honour and a privilege to help out in this effort. We await a word from your side. We look forward to an immediate and favourable response.
For INTACH Chennai
CC: The Chairman, LIC of India
CC: The Chairman, INTACH Delhi