May be pulled down ‘in the interest of public service’; heritage committee to meet on Wednesday

The highest decision-making authority of the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) will meet on Wednesday to decide whether permission could be granted to Southern Railway for demolition/modification of Royapuram station, which is a heritage structure.

Though a CMDA official said on Saturday it was unlikely that its heritage conservation committee was going to permit partial or complete demolition of the railway station, the risk of the structure being pulled down runs high.

Owing to the exemption given to ‘operational structures,’ from the purview of the Tamil Nadu Town and Country Planning Act and the Chennai City Municipal Corporation Act, the railways can demolish the heritage building ‘in the interest of public service.’

The station figures among 19 structures classified as Grade-I heritage buildings in the draft list prepared by the CMDA earlier this month, but since the State government is yet to notify the list, Southern Railway is not legally bound to protect the station and is free to pull it down.

According to the special rules for the conservation of heritage buildings under the Second Master Plan, Grade-I buildings have national or historical importance, embodying excellence in architectural style, design, technology and material usage. They may be associated with a great historical event, personality, movement or institution. No interventions would be permitted either on the exterior or interior unless it is necessary in the interest of strengthening, and prolonging, the life of the building.

CMDA is empowered to give development permission for the changes on the advice of the heritage conservation committee, appointed by the State government.

The CMDA meeting on Wednesday is likely to answer the concerns of citizens on the conservation of nationally-significant heritage structures in the city. The member-secretary of CMDA is now the only ray of hope in saving the Royapuram station.

According to development regulations for Chennai metropolitan area, the member secretary of CMDA ‘shall act in consultation with the heritage conservation committee to be appointed by the government, provided that in exceptional cases for reasons to be recorded in writing, the member secretary may overrule the recommendation of the heritage conservation committee, provided the powers to overrule the recommendation shall not be delegated by the member secretary to any other officer.’

The CMDA member secretary will give an opportunity of hearing to Southern Railway and to the public before taking a final decision.

The Royapuram station, whose construction began in 1853, was designed by William Adelpi Tracey like a regency mansion in the quasi-classical style of the Renaissance period.