Puducherry

Puducherry heritage building collapses in rain

A view of the Mairie Building (Town Hall), which collapsed under the impact of incessant rains in Puducherry on Saturday. Photo: S.S. Kumar

A view of the Mairie Building (Town Hall), which collapsed under the impact of incessant rains in Puducherry on Saturday. Photo: S.S. Kumar  

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The Mairie (French for town hall), which housed the Mayor’s office, functioned for over a century as the hub of municipal administration.

The 144-year-old Mairie Building, the seat of municipal administration in the French era and one of the prominent landmarks of Puducherry, caved in on a rain-hit Saturday afternoon.

Eyewitnesses said the building collapsed at around 1.40 p.m.

There were no casualties.

“Nine workers who were engaged in restoration works were out for lunch when the structure collapsed,” said Mannadhan, the building watchman who was the first to report the incident to higher-ups.

The damage assessment carried out by a team of experts and Government officials has indicated that the entire structure would have to be built from scratch.

“We would inspect the other heritage and ancient buildings constructed during the French regime to ascertain their stability. The government is keen to restore all the heritage buildings in Puducherry,” said N.G. Pannirselvam, Local Administration Minister.

Built in 1870-71, the Mairie (French for town hall) building was an important part of an ensemble of sea-facing landmark structures, including the old lighthouse, the Chief Secretariat and the French

Consulate, that date back to a period of French colonial rule in this coastal town.

It was in 1674 that the French East India Company established a trade outpost here.

After a series of wars through the eighteenth century, primarily Anglo-French wars for possession, the town was continuously under French rule since the second decade of the 19th century, and remained

so even when the British gained control of the whole of India in the late 1850s.

The Mairie, which housed the Mayor’s office, functioned for over a century as the hub of municipal administration. In fact, it was in this building that the first attempt at democracy for Puducherry was tried out during 1870-1900 long before the first general elections were held in British India, according to Ashok Panda, co-convener, INTACH.

The Mairie also housed the Legislative Assembly of Puducherry for four years from 1964 (when the first general election was held in the wake of de jure transfer of power) before the Assembly was shifted to the

present premises in 1969. It also provided facility for marriages and other public functions.

For years, the building served as the office of the municipal administration department of the Puducherry Government. Many offices were relocated to a new complex in Kamban Kalai Arangam and the last

remaining registry office was shifted in 2012. Since then, the building has been kept vacant to undertake the restoration works.

It was earlier this year that a renovation plan was sanctioned under the Project Implementation Agency (PIA) of the Government with a Rs. 7.5 crore aid from the World Bank. The task was entrusted to the INTACH after taking technical advice of IIT, Madras, and Archaeological Survey of India.

A.K. Das, Project Manager, INTACH, told The Hindu that the exact cause for the collapse is yet to be ascertained.

“We have to sit with the government and make an assessment of the present situation,” he said.

At the moment, no one can hazard a guess as to what it would take or how much it would cost to rebuild and restore the Mairie to its original state.

The eastern and western façade of the two-storied building featured arcaded entrance verandahs on high plinth accessed by a broad flight of ornately designed granite steps, while the first floor featured

coloured galleries and a large ceremonial hall with wooden flooring.

The diverse architecture and aesthetic appeal, the very virtues that the Marie symbolised, will now poses a challenge of monumental proportions to any agency that is tasked with its restoration.

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Printable version | Sep 18, 2019 3:25:35 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/puducherry/puducherry-heritage-building-collapses-in-rain/article6646684.ece

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