I am told that legislation was passed in 2010 entitled the Chennai Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority Act and an organisation called CUMTA, in abbreviation, was set up. Its aim was to integrate the City's bus, train, suburban railway, Metro Rail, MRTS — now it will have to include Monorail, I suppose — and bus services to make travel easy for passengers through an interconnectivity of these services that CUMTA will ensure. In the two years since the Act was passed, we have, however, been unable to get an interconnectivity in the existing services, namely, the Metropolitan bus service, suburban train services, MRTS and the mainline railway services. A single ticket for a journey in Greater Madras, assuring a hop, step and a jump between one service and another, remains a dream. Just as it has been for decades.
My words of despair above have been prompted by the latest news that a Chennai Comprehensive Transport Study plan (Yes, another one!) commissioned by the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority has been handed over to CUMTA. This three-phase plan for Greater Madras envisages Rs. 82,000 crore (forget over-runs) being spent over the next decade and more, with nearly Rs. 53,000 crore targeted to be spent before 2015. The study promises that, with this expenditure, commuter comfort will be assured through an inter-connected urban transport system where every transport authority will not ignore the others but will work amicably with them for the common good. That's manna for the dreams of commuters, with a promise that they will all be pleasant strongly implied.
Sadly, I tend to be sceptical about many of these studies and the promises they hold. Since I'm addicted to looking back, just let's look at two short stretches of interconnectivity — or, rather, the lack of them — that I can remember ever since as a child I dreamed of being an engine-driver…and that was long, long ago, though over those decades I've heard it said often enough that Central Station and Egmore Station, as well as Beach Station and Royapuram Station, will be connected. Well, I'm still waiting.
Let's look at the kind of wait I'm talking about. The Madras and Southern Mahratta Railway Company was formed in 1908 and took over Central Station which had been opened in 1873 by the Madras Railway Company and which had been made the MRC's main station in 1907. The MRC's Royapuram railway station had long before been inaugurated as the South's first railway station in 1856.
Meanwhile, the Trichinopoly-headquartered South India Railway Company was established in 1890 and made Egmore Railway Station its northern terminus in 1908. With both stations opening just a year apart, that was when talk first began of linking Madras Central and Egmore. I'm still waiting for the link, just as I had 65 years ago when I had to travel from Colombo to the old undivided Punjab and back and had to hop stations in Madras!
As for that other link, Beach and Royapuram, it was in 1931 that the South Indian Railway began its Tambaram-Beach electric suburban train services. But how did/does the traveller get to Royapuram (for factories, in points north) which was still active in those days — and promises to be active again?
All these services now belongs the Southern Railway which took them over on April 1, 1951. And Southern Railways has been talking from time to time about all these linkages becoming a reality. They're still talking. And the traveller is still waiting. Will the Southern Railway now get around to talking to CUMTA and will the travellers' waiting end in a couple of decades?
More heritage vanishes
Even as sombre voices loudly proclaim that all that's being done in the city is being done for the public good — and that includes using the wreckers' hammers for a variety of purposes, including the raising of pillars for new transport facilities that may or may not connect with others — two more buildings on Mount Road that is Anna Salai, which would have been in any patiently compiled list of heritage buildings, have vanished, or have, at least, been converted into rubble and dust. One is the Venkatapathi Naidu Building at Anna Circle and the other is the building that housed the Annalakshmi Restaurant. By any stretch of imagination, the former had much greater claims to heritage listing.
Wiele and Klein, one of the earliest photographic studios in the South, was located at 11 Mount Road in the last years of the 19th Century. Photographs taken c.1892 by the firm show a handsome porticoed building with the firm's signage loud and clear. Klein and his much younger wife Valeska, whom he married in England in 1909, lived on the first floor of the building. But the Great War saw them being interned as enemy citizens (Klein was German) and G. Venkatapathi Naidu bought the building and refurbished it in 1919. Since then it has been refurbished many times — but it was obviously thought, more recently, that one more refurbishment did not make economic sense.
The Venkatapathi Naidu connection only adds to the heritage value of the building. Naidu was a Municipal Councillor from 1919 to 1926 and was honoured with a Rao Bahadur title in 1923. He was associated with dozens of civic bodies in Madras ranging from the Temperance Association and the Depressed Classes Mission Society to the Discharged Prisoners' Association and the Pinjrapole. An intriguing insight is the fact that he, for years, was the Morals Lecturer to Hindu convicts in the Madras Jail! In early 20th Century Madras, he was thus, certainly a man of standing.
As for the building that housed Annalakshmi, it's a building whose history has long intrigued me. Perhaps I'll get some answers to that now.
Quiz for the week
This rare picture of Madras dignitaries of the 1930s was sent to me by R.K. Balasubramaniam. He believes that the picture was taken at a reception accorded to the Rt. Hon. Srinivasa Sastri after his return from the Second Round Table Conference in 1930. I wonder how many of us remember our leaders of the past. I wonder how many readers can correctly name those in the picture, everyone an outstanding leader. No prizes, but answers in due course.