Metro Rail work costs heritage campus a building

Like several colonial buildings in the city, it was an abandoned but attractive building on Anna Salai with characteristic arches and a façade that was a reminder of a century past.

The building inside the heritage campus of Teacher Training College in Saidapet, estimated to be over 100 years old, has been torn down to make way for Metro station work.

The Teacher Training College is one of the oldest teacher training institutes in Asia and was started in 1856 as Normal School in Vepery before moving to the Model farm campus in Saidapet in 1889.

If one were to expect the Heritage Conservation Committee (HCC) to have opposed the demolition, the reverse is in fact the case. An official of the HCC, under whose purview all heritage buildings in the city come, justified the demolition.

The official argued that unlike the 157-year-old Institute of Advanced Studies in Education (IASE) building (formerly Teacher Training College) within the campus, the demolished structure was not a heritage building.

This was because it had not been graded and listed individually in the Justice E. Padmanabhan Committee Report which contains a comprehensive list of heritage structures in the city and is the only document that is recognised by the government.

The building, which was in a state of disuse over the past few years, had been used by Model Government Higher Secondary School situated within the campus.

However, there is ambiguity in the heritage categorisation. The Padmanabhan committee had described the entire complex (which includes the demolished building) as of grade I heritage value. But it undertook to grade only one building within the complex as a heritage structure, while not making a mention of the others including the one that is being demolished.

So Chennai Metro Rail Limited (CMRL) officials said the building being demolished does not have heritage value, and this is backed by the HCC.

“The building of the IASE is the only listed heritage building in the campus according to the report. Unless listed individually, the building does not necessarily possess heritage value,” an official from the HCC said. An official of the school education department said that CMRL had sought necessary permissions to demolish the structure.

The HCC, which is drawing up an independent list of heritage structures in the city, has identified 67 structures since the exercise began in 2011, but they are yet to be officially notified as heritage structures. An official said the Teacher Training College campus did not feature in the first list.

However, conservation architect K. Kalpana, who was part of the Padmanabhan committee, argued that the purpose of assigning the entire complex heritage value was so that it could be protected and conserved and in such cases, the HCC has to apply its own assessment.

“The building being demolished is a heritage structure. The structures within the campus belong to the same period. They follow the same language,” she said.

Historian Sriram V. said though an extremely comprehensive list, the Padmanabhan committee report was prepared in the context of mushrooming hoardings in the city, which later came to be used as the base list to protect heritage buildings.

“The HCC is yet to make its list public and interprets the Padmanabhan committee report as per its convenience,” he said.

(With inputs from Sunitha Sekar)

This story has been edited for a factual error.

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