245-year-old heritage structure is part of Chepauk Palace; govt. office was functioning in it

Work at the office of the Tamil Nadu State Commission for Women in Chepauk came to a halt on Thursday afternoon, when the Madras terrace of the 245-year-old building collapsed.

The office is part of a cluster of heritage structures that form the Chepauk Palace, and is located in the 52,000 sq. ft. Humayun Mahal, which is 50 metres away from the iconic Kalas Mahal.

At 12.45 p.m., employees said, the ceiling came down in a slow but steady shower of lime mortar chippings, decayed timber splinters and false ceiling panels. Fortunately, the staff managed to run out and were not injured.

Officials of the Public Works Department (PWD), which owns the structure, attribute the crash to decaying wooden beams. They estimated that 500 sq. ft of the Madras terrace had been damaged. A team from Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue Services (TNFRS) cordoned off the area. A TNFRS officer said that lime mortar, which had become loose due to decaying wooden rafters, fell on the false ceiling and triggered the collapse.

From 2007, the PWD has been issuing a series of notices to the Commission, asking it to vacate their 1,200 sq.ft. office, declaring it “old and structurally unstable”. A staff member of nearby Ezhilagam said the agricultural department, which used to function near the Commission’s office, heeded the warning and moved out.

A committee comprising conservation architects and PWD officials is expected to be constituted for the restoration of the entire Humayun Mahal. The essential nature of this structure, made of brick work and lime mortar, would be retained, said an official. Restoration of the adjacent Kalas Mahal is due to kick off in two months.

According to records available with the PWD, the Humayun Mahal, a Grade I heritage structure was built in 1768.

The Register of Public Buildings states that the damaged structure earlier functioned as the office of the Board of Revenue. At present, it is officially known as the Director of Agriculture office building.

The Commission for Women had been operating here from a small space that had been apportioned for it.

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