Though there have been frequent laments about its precarious condition, it was only last week that matters reached a climax of sorts. A social media post had it that the Coja Petrus Uscan plaque, commemorating that philanthropist’s funding of the Marmalong bridge in 1728, had gone missing. There were reports in the daily press as well.
Reality, fortunately for us, was not that bad. The plaque was still in situ, none the worse for the volume of Metro Rail work that had gone on around it. But we at Madras Musings decided that it was best that our concern, and those of several heritage enthusiasts, was lodged with Metro Rail. An email from firstname.lastname@example.org was therefore sent to the Managing Director, CMRL, (Chennaimetrorail@cmrl.in – the email address given on their web site) on Thursday, February 15, 2018. The content of the email was as follows:
Sub: Coja Petrus Oscan plaque by the side of the Saidapet Bridge
Kind Attention: Thiru Pankaj Kumar Bansal, MD, CMRL
This was followed up by a personal call to Mr Bansal that afternoon, thanks to the kind courtesy of Mr Vikram Kapur, IAS, former Commissioner of the Corporation of Chennai and presently, Industries Secretary, Government of Tamil Nadu. Mr Bansal assured me that Metro Rail is fully aware of the heritage value of the plaque and has taken all steps to ensure that it was not damaged in any way when the work was in progress. And as of now, all work of CMRL at that site had ended.
When asked about the possibility of shifting the plaque to the Museum, he responded that the artefact falls under the jurisdiction of the Highways Department and it is up to the latter to take a decision on then same. Matters rest there for the nonce.
Now the questions:
- True, the plaque has survived. But for how much longer? With 1/3rd already underground, will its safety be assured against any further work in the vicinity?
- The fact that it is under the Highways Department is a cause for worry – this is a national highway and that means we are now dealing with a ministry at the central level. That lifts the issue into a rarefied strata.
- Clearly, it is up to us foot soldiers of heritage to keep a watch on this piece of heritage.