A once handsome building which now seems to have been pushed into prolonged neglect, the Bharat Insurance Building has been a personal landmark for many who recall seeing the stately building when it was functional. The blue sheet with which the building was covered by its owners, Life India Corporation (LIC), about a year back to ‘protect’ it, is almost worn off, and with the approaching monsoons, experts are apprehensive about how much this heritage precinct can withstand.
The building was deemed fit for restoration by the Madras High Court, based on the assessment of the Heritage Conservation Committee, but the LIC had gone to the Supreme Court against the verdict. Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) sources said they are waiting to review a restoration proposal from LIC, which the organisation has been asked to produce to the Heritage Conservation Committee by a Supreme Court directive recently. “Once the presentation comes to us, we will offer suggestions,” said the official. LIC officials refused to comment on the upkeep of the building.
K. Kalpana, conservation architect, who along with architect Tara Murali inspected the building a few years ago, is of the opinion that that there is an urgent need for intervention. “The stability of the structure is bound to deteriorate, considering that no effort has been made to provide support,” she said.
A.R. Santhakumar, former dean, Department of Civil Engineering, Anna University, who had also inspected the building, suggested that temporary support be provided by way of propping. He said that it was not an expensive proposition.
The 115-year-old building was described as a vision on Mount Road with its domes, spires, 100-foot minarets, arches and verandahs. The ownership changed several hands before it came under the possession of LIC in 1956. Issues are said to have arisen in 1998, when tenants were asked to vacate the premises due to the weakness of the structure. When LIC decided to demolish the building, INTACH challenged the decision in court in 2006.
N.L. Rajah, counsel for INTACH, said, “LIC has gone to the Supreme Court against the judgement given in 2010 by a high court Bench , calling for its restoration. The matter is now pending.”
The Bench also directed the Government to form a Heritage Conservation Committee to assess the value and feasibility of retaining the Bharath Insurance Building, as well as several other heritage precincts.