For almost 370 years, Fort St. George has been a silent witness to the evolution of the city. What used to be a small collection of villages is now a bustling metropolis and all through the city's history, the Fort has held a special place.

With the inauguration of the new Assembly-Secretariat complex, the majestic building where the first Madras Legislative Council met for the first time way back on January 9, 1921 will no longer be the official seat of power.

“The shifting of the legislature might actually turn out to be a great thing,” said S. Suresh, convenor of INTACH Chennai Chapter. “Security may no longer be a major hassle and free entry into the compound must now be possible.”

Heritage walks

INTACH has been organising heritage walks inside the Fort from 2003. But in the last seven-odd years, only 10 to 12 walks have been possible owing to security concerns, said Mr. Suresh.

“The Fort complex is where the city began and every citizen must understand its significance if they ought to understand the history of the city. Whether the old Assembly building is turned into a memorial or a museum, it must be made accessible to the public,” he added.

Call for museum

T. Sathyamurthy, former Superintending Archaeologist, Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), Chennai circle, said the Assembly building could be converted into a museum where people could go to understand how the legislature works.

“Setting up a Madras city museum which traces the history of the city could also be an interesting idea. We do not have a city museum unlike other cities and it will be a tourist attraction,” he added.

No more debates

However the space is used, it will no longer witness heated political debates or wary-looking people with petitions in hand. It will also no longer be home for people like K. Shankar who has been running a petty shop inside the complex for the last 20 years. According to a senior Army official, the Army which originally owned the property will most likely evict the shopkeepers soon.

“Owning even a tiny shop here is a sense of pride,” said Shankar. “I just hope we will be allowed to stay and the place will not be left empty. Hope some other offices come here.”