Building was being stripped of fittings ahead of its demolition by Metro Rail

The skeletal structure of Ambassador Lodge — adjoining the heritage building of P. Orr & Sons on Anna Salai — came crashing on Thursday afternoon, shortly before it was to be demolished by Chennai Metro Rail for construction of an underground station. The structure, which had weakened considerably because the occupants had been breaking the walls and drilling through the roof to salvage the expensive fittings, collapsed at 2.15 p.m., damaging a few cars and spilling debris on the road. No one was hurt in the incident.

The owners of the lodge had handed over the building to Chennai Metro Rail on March 9, but they were permitted to remove doors and other antique materials on “humanitarian grounds as the owners were attached to their property,” a CMRL official said. Clearly, CMRL failed to ensure safe demolition of the building as was expected of it. “Over 105 buildings have been safely demolished for Metro Rail in the city so far. Even in this case we told the tenants here that we will demolish the building carefully. But they started pulling it apart in order to remove the materials,” the official said.

The accidental collapse of the structure also had an impact on P. Orr & Sons, one of the heritage buildings on Anna Salai which figured in the list prepared by the Heritage Conservation Committee of the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority. T.S. Balaji, senior manager (maintenance) of P. Orr & Sons, said: “Two new cracks have developed on our wall. I rushed out when our building shook violently. I thought it was an earthquake. When I came out I found debris all around and the adjacent lodge collapsed.”

A subcommittee of the Heritage Conservation Committee constituted by the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority had already raised concern about the adverse impact the proposed Chennai Metro Rail stations would make on such heritage buildings. The subcommittee found some of the structures of the proposed underground Metro stations to be ‘dangerously close' to the heritage buildings.

A total of 16 heritage structures including Wesley Tamil Aalayam on Broadway, Simpson building premises, P. Orr & Sons, SBI Building on Anna Salai, Addison & Co, Higginbotham's, Bharat Insurance Building, Poompuhar, May Day Park and Pachaiyappa College were found to be near the proposed alignment by the CMDA. As part of the work to build an underground station on Anna Salai, the buildings adjoining P. Orr & Sons were handed over to the Chennai Metro Rail Limited. These buildings housed surgical shops, sports goods shops and the Ambassador Lodge.

“I saw two persons on top of the building just two minutes before the building collapsed,” said V. Kumar, a person at the accident spot on Atthippattan Street, which branches off Anna Salai into Ritchie Street. However, fire and rescue personnel said that no injury was reported.