It is now finally out in the open. The cracks on the façade of Ripon Building are so wide that you can make them out as you go along the road. Up until now the Metro Rail, which is conducting excavations below the building has claimed it has nothing to do with the fissures but it may not be able to escape for much longer. It is high time that this body, no matter how important its work is for the future of the city, is made to realise that development as an agenda is highly commendable but it cannot be at the cost of just about everything else.

The Corporation of Greater Chennai, which should be the most vociferous among the protestors, has chosen to keep quiet. That is quite surprising, for after all would you keep silent if your home was coming apart owing to a neighbour digging beneath your property? It also shows what sense of ownership the higher officials of the civic body have for their premises. Ditto the Councillors who did not turn a hair when a plaster from the ceiling of the Council Chamber began falling owing to the drilling. All that has been done is that monitors have been placed at various places in the premises to check on whether the fissures are widening. Reports on the findings from these are allegedly being filed but as to whether any action was ever contemplated is unknown. IIT Madras is apparently a recipient of this data but as to what it does with it is also a secret. But what is out in the open are the cracks. One of them is even now climbing up all the way to the top to the bell tower. When this tower falls, we will have the satisfaction of knowing that the monitors had already predicted it.

Ripon Buildings has been the recipient of Rs 23 crores for a complete restoration exercise. This is public money. The entire activity was almost complete when Metro Rail began digging in the vicinity, bringing the repair work to a halt. The allotted money, it is understood, has been more or less full spent though with what final result is a mystery. But it is money that we as taxpayers have contributed to. It is a good indication of the way the Government works.

However, for the first time there are indications that the lower levels of officialdom in the Corporation are getting alarmed. After all, they are the people who are working in the premises throughout the day. The Hindu, in its report dated November 12th has an official under condition of anonymity demanding that the data being tracked by the monitors be made public. We welcome this stance as this is exactly what we have been demanding ever since the first cracks were noticed in the building. The cosy world of official secrecy has to be done away with.

Chennai Metro Rail has caused untold damage to the city’s heritage. The list of buildings demolished to make way for it and those endangered by it is long. Public reaction to such wanton carelessness has been muted but now, with the symbol of the city’s civic body (Ripon Buildings features on the Corporation’s coat of arms and therefore is part of the city’s emblem) being affected, it is likely that voices of protest can rise in volume. If this happens it will be to the good, for a public body can be made more accountable. If not, then we get the city we deserve.