Rs.5 lakh costs imposed on INTACH; court wants it removed from panel

The Madras High Court on Wednesday dismissed with costs of Rs.5 lakh, a petition by the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) challenging the decision to pull down the rear portion of the P. Orr and Sons building on Anna Salai for the Chennai Metro Rail project.

The petitioner should pay the costs to the Tamil Nadu State Legal Services Authority, Chennai, within four weeks.

A Division Bench of Justices Elipe Dharma Rao and M. Venugopal directed the Tamil Nadu government to remove the organisation from the Heritage Conservation Committee (HCC) and any such panel within two weeks, and “fill such vacancy/vacancies with more suitable candidates with proven standards in the field”.

INTACH's contention was that the CMDA and the Chennai Corporation's decision permitting the demolition of a part of the building was in violation of Development Control Rules and a judgment of the High Court in 2006.

The authorities said that only the rear portion of the building was required for the project.

The award was passed on February 28, 2012. The building owner, Associated Publishers Madras Pvt. Limited, had corroborated the authorities' version that acquisition proceedings had been completed, and award passed, but the award sum was yet to be received by him.

The Bench observed that the petitioner, being a member of the HCC, which had permitted the CMRL to go on with the project, had made a ‘U' turn to illegally challenge the resolution by stepping into the shoes of the tenant when the original owner of the building had no objection and subjected himself to the acquisition proceedings. INTACH thus indulged in “corporal teasing and professional misconduct, betraying the trust and unnecessarily stalling a public project like CMRL by filing this vexatious litigation”.

The court said from the Justice E. Padmanabhan committee's report, it was clear that the building's rear portion, constructed 20 years after the construction of the main building in 1873, was used as workshops. Not only the report but also the photographs showed that the rear portion was abandoned and was not in the heritage list of buildings.

The age of a building may be one of the criteria, but not the sole criterion, to decide whether a building is a heritage structure or not. No historical or important event attached to the building's rear portion was brought to its notice, the court said.

Mr. Justices Elipe Dharma Rao and Venugopal said they could not fault the authorities' decision to pull down a part of the building to pave the way for Metro Rail. They concluded that only the front portion was a Grade-I heritage building. The petitioner being a member of the HCC could not challenge the resolution passed by the same panel.

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