The Government now in power is one that swears by the words, deeds and ideology of the late J. Jayalalithaa, former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. And she was of the view that Fort St. George was the rightful place from where our State was to be administered. If so, why is the Fort in such a shabby condition with no maintenance of any kind? A recent visit to that historic precinct shows that matters have only taken a turn for the worse in the last two years.
Of course, the Tamil Nadu Government is not the sole occupant/owner of the place. As is well known, the Archaeological Survey, the Army, the Navy, the Legislature and St. Mary’s Church are all in occupation of the Fort, apart from the Government. But the last named can surely set an example and also take the initiative in maintenance. That it is not doing so is more than evident from the general shabbiness that prevails. How else can you explain this eight-foot ramp of rubbish that has been built up at the rear of the Namakkal Kavignar Maligai (please see accompanying picture)? With such a tower of inflammable material being allowed to accumulate, are we not laying the whole Fort open to a fire disaster? Let’s face it, if such an event were to occur, God forbid, it would not be the first heritage precinct to catch fire in our city, owing to neglect. But do we want that to happen in the centre of administration of our Government?
If that is the fate of what is under the control of our Executive and the Legislature, what is with the Archaeological Survey is no better. Clive’s Corner, inaugurated with much fanfare a few years ago, is now mostly locked and when opened reveals a musty room full of peeling plaster.
The last house on Snob’s Alley lost some chunks of itself in the rains of last year and the rest remains supported on steel rods. The space to the south of Snob’s Alley, from where the casual visitor could walk across to the front ramparts of the Fort, now looks like an equatorial forest, so overgrown it is with vegetation. This was a clean and empty space just a year ago. Wellesley House remains a mouldering ruin and it was with some surprise that this correspondent noticed that the Army has begun some construction activity on the debris of the building itself! It is also somewhat of a wonder that the standing half of Wellesley House is still being used as an office! To what purpose is the ASI’s sparkling maintenance of its office (Clive House) when the rest of what it is supposed to protect is run down so badly?
The Army for its part appears to have redeemed itself somewhat in comparison to the agencies mentioned above. Of course, its King’s Barracks is as bad as ever but the rest of the buildings that it occupies are very clean and well maintained. The Army has also barricaded the roads surrounding Parade Square to prevent access by Government cars. This has freed up the walking space around the area to an extent. There are also signs of some repair work beginning in a few of the large buildings occupied by the Army. It is to be hoped that these are being taken up in collaboration with the ASI.
Taken overall, the Fort is not in good shape. It is ironic that the present party in power was the one that was keen to get UNESCO certification for the Fort as a heritage precinct. What is happening there now is not likely to ever get us that recognition.
You may also want to read the 24 part series on landmarks within Fort St George
You can order the definitive guide to Fort St George from here