The response has been tremendous, even overwhelming. Taking up the challenge tossed at them by The Hindu on August 7, hundreds of readers and concerned citizens have submitted more than 1,200 ideas on how best the sprawling complex on Anna Salai, which was originally meant to house the Secretariat and Legislative Assembly of Tamil Nadu, could be put to use.
With imagination and public spirit, students and teachers, salaried employees and businessmen, technicians and architects, senior citizens and serving government employees, from the city, from elsewhere in Tamil Nadu and the country, and from far-flung places such as Britain, Sweden, the United States, Canada and Kuwait have written in their suggestions and views on putting life back into the building. Many are identified by no more than a name and an e-mail address, while others have backed their ideas with a summation of their qualifications or their reasons for their proposals.
As this newspaper had sought ideas that would help the citizens claim this building, on which about Rs. 500 crore of taxpayers' money has so far been spent, as their own public space, health services and educational purposes are predominant among the ideas that have poured in.
Proposals for establishing a state-of-the-art, super-speciality hospital on the lines of the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences, accessible to the poor and with facilities for medical instruction, research and exchange of ideas are numerous and may emerge among the most popular ideas. Some have referred to the metropolis being the hub of high-end medical treatment and have argued that a top medical education and research institution would be appropriate for Chennai.
Educational purposes suggested vary from making the complex a ‘knowledge hub' to the establishment of a university that will offer both humanities and science courses. Other ideas related to education include general proposals for any educational institution or specific ones that suggest a research centre for a particular sector of learning such as information technology, science and technology, engineering, law or agriculture.
Museums and libraries of various kinds are among the readers' recommendations, with some emphasising that the grand building with an Assembly chamber and smaller halls could be apt for showcasing Tamil culture, literature and history. Some have a national or international perspective and call for establishing a world class museum. Many ideas concern auditoriums, convention centres and trade complexes.
While some suggestions for using the complex as a library are nuanced in their submission — a children's education and entertainment centre or an engineering and technological resource centre — there are general submissions for a library complex, which fail to take into account the establishment of a massive public library at Kotturpuram that was inaugurated less than a year ago.
Administrative use of the building is still on the minds of many. There are many suggestions such as those for an integrated compound for government offices, combined headquarters for various police wings, a single complex for the judiciary, and shifting the Chennai Corporation from the early 20th century Ripon Buildings to the modern premises on Anna Salai. There is a suggestion for a single Pentagon-like defence headquarters for south India.
Commercialisation of the compound — malls, IT companies, private offices, hotels and even a proposal for earmarking some space for a ‘gambling centre' — is a view held by some who feel it could be used to generate revenue.
Of course, there are critics and sceptics who wonder why alternative uses should be considered when it could very well be utilised for its original purpose as the Secretariat.
Readers can continue to email ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org or write in to Project ‘Our Building,' The Hindu , Kasturi Buildings, 859 & 860 Anna Salai, Chennai 600002.
The link for the original story, ‘A building in search of an idea,' inviting suggestions can be accessed >here .