Monday, October 22, 2012

LIC : - Bharat Insurance Building in Mount Road and ... heritage value


It is a story of another building once majestic but years have had their toll and now it stands in a neglected glory – lurking harm to some innocent poor people.  Decades ago, the landmarks of Chennai aka Madras were the Cinema theatres and this place could perhaps be identified as being closer to Alankar or opposite to Wellington….  But there has been a bigger landmark – the one which was invariably shown in all Tamil cinemas whenever the storyline shifted to Madras or when Hero or heroine would landup in the city in pursuit of a starry life from their small village – the 14 storeyed LIC building

- - and the building that is the subject matter of this post is ‘Bharat Insurance Building’ looking a pale shadow of a building which once was a landmark for many.  Its owner is the famed ‘Life Insurance Corporation of India’ whose slogan is  "Yogakshemam Vahamyaham" a Sanskrit term which translates  to "Your welfare is our responsibility".

If you dare to walk near this building now, you must be careful and apprehensive of how long it would stand.  If one’s memory serves right, this building in one portion housed branch of LIC, the local branch of the Insurance Institute of India [Madras Insurance Institute] and in another the wing, the trade Union with good presence in LIC and in GIC as well.

From once a bustling place, to a place neglected and uncared for – it is a sad story for the building which is now mired in to controversy and litigation.  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.   The protagonists feel the need for urgent need for intervention as the stability of the structure is deteriorating.



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.

The heritage conservation committee of the Chennai metropolitan area, has reportedly rejected  a proposal to carry out “major modifications” on it.  The  demolition was stayed by the Madras High Court, following a public interest litigation filed by INTACH in 2006. In 2010, LIC approached the Supreme Court against the Madras High Court’s stay order.  It is stated that LIC should not be allowed to modify the building as it could result in demolition of a large chunk of the structure, leading to the loss of its intrinsic heritage value.

Whether ‘heritage value’ would be inherited by the age of the building and who should decide on whether a structure is of ‘heritage value’ are grey areas. By definition, “Heritage building”  would mean and include any building of one or more premises or any part thereof and/or structure and/or artifact which requires conservation and / or preservation for historical and / or architectural and / or artisanary and /or aesthetic and/or cultural and/or environmental and/or ecological purpose and includes such portion of land adjoining such building or part thereof as may be required for fencing or covering………………………….’

While Government preserving a ‘heritage structure’ is understandable, will any common individual lose precious money value and keep his property as ‘heritage structure’ is a moot Q – with an obvious answer.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.

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