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Secretariat project postponed

By Ramya Kannan and K. Ramachandran

CHENNAI, MAY 21. There is a rethinking on setting up the new Secretariat complex at Kotturpuram here.

Informed sources in the government told The Hindu that the project had been postponed. They confirmed that the orders were presently restricted to `postponing' and not `shelving' the project. The State is apparently reconsidering its decision because of public opinion against the proposed shifting of the complex.

The Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA), the implementing authority, has been asked to postpone work on setting up the new complex.

In September 2003, the government decided to shift the Secretariat from Fort St. George, reasoning that the buildings in the old complex were structurally defective and that there was no space for putting up any new building on the campus.

The main building was constructed in 1781 and the new Namakkal Kavignar Maligai was built just as office accommodation, without any of the facilities required for a modern Secretariat.

While initially (April 2003) Queen Mary's College on Kamarajar Salai was identified as a probable location for the new Secretariat, the plan was abandoned following a public outcry and litigation.

A September 1, 2003 government order identified a site which was `free from restrictions by any State or Central Regulations' at Kotturpuram.

The new complex was to come up on 43.20 acres of land in the heart of the Science City at Kotturpuram. The land belongs to Anna University, Madras University and the Government Data Centre. The CMDA was entrusted with selecting the architect and the construction agency, apart from being authorised to mobilise funds.

The full-fledged Secretariat complex, including the Legislative Assembly hall and a big conference hall, was to have a total floor space of 10 lakh sqft-12 lakh sqft. The entire project, along with the facilities and emergency/security services, was to be completed in 18 months "on a fast track basis" as per a tender notification issued last month.

Alternative sites in the city were identified for being handed over to the Anna and Madras universities. The government then considered designs furnished by four architects, recommended by the CMDA, and chose the blueprint offered by M/s. C.R. Narayana Rao.

A meeting convened by the Chief Secretary on April 23 decided that offices/schools including the Highways Research Station in the area be shifted to their new locations between May 15 and 25. A row of half a dozen hostel blocks of Anna University too was to be demolished and the students were to be accommodated in an apartment complex of the Tamil Nadu Housing Board at Mogappair, 13 km away.

Meanwhile, protests broke out over the proposed shifting of the location to Kotturpuram. Residents of Kotturpuram and students of Anna University and Anna Gem Science Park School made representations to the Chief Minister, urging her to reconsider her decision, on the ground that it would affect students. A group of retired bureaucrats and administrators under the banner `Forum for Democratic Governance,' in a petition to President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, said the construction of the new Secretariat at Kotturpuram would have `adverse effects' including demolition of many approved buildings and traffic congestion.

A Kotturpuram resident filed a public interest litigation petition challenging the proposed construction, but the Madras High Court dismissed it two months ago.

However, with oral orders issued to the CMDA to go slow, the fate of the proposed complex hangs in the balance.

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