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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

century old P.Orr & Sons building at Mount Road to fall !!

Heard of Horology – [from Greek – the study of time] - the art or science of measuring time.  In Mar 2012,  I had posted about the building connected to time whose jingle “காலம் காலமாக மக்கள் கடிகாரம் வாங்குமிடம்  பி ஆர் அண்ட் சன்ஸ்” [people have been buying clocks here for ages] was quite a hit !.  ‘Heritage building” means a building possessing architectural, aesthetic, historic or cultural values which is declared as heritage building by the Planning Authority/Heritage conservation committee or any other Competent Authority in whose jurisdiction such building is situated.  Building with architectural significance and traditional values are considered for their preservation and conservation.

The century old building housing  P.Orr&Sons  situated on the arterial Mount Road, near ‘The Hindu” office has been  in news !  The famous watch selling company P. Orr & Sons is stated to have originated in 1849 and moved into the current premises in 1873.  The  building was  reportedly designed by architect Robert Chisholm, the pioneer of Indo-Saracenic architecture, a style of construction that originated in south India. Upon a petition,  Justice E. Padmanabhan Committee designated 130 year old  P. Orr & Sons building, home to the renowned watchmakers, as a heritage structure. Its  existence was  in danger due to the  Chennai Metro Rail Limited (CMRL) project. 

P. Orr and Sons are not the owners;  according to the owners, the acquisition proceedings had been completed and the award had been passed.  It has been a sad but regular tale that many of the old buildings especially those in legal tangle are neglected and uncared for, and remain in dilapidated condition, threatening to fall any time, capable of harming those nearby but everyone would expect Govt. to spend and up keep such rickety structures in the name of heritage.  The  skeletal structure of Ambassador Lodge — adjoining the heritage building of P. Orr & Sons on Anna Salai — came crashing in Mar 2012  before it was touched for demolition. 

Early April 2012, the Madras High Court dismissed a petition against the demolition of the rear portion of the P Orr & Sons building on Anna Salai to make way for Metro Rail construction. It also censured the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (Intach) and fined Rs.5 lakh for the litigation, which stalled work on the transit system. The Division Bench comprising Justices Elipe Dharma Rao and M Venugopal stated that the complex had been inspected by a high-level committee, which specifically noted that its rear portion was not a heritage building.

The Court had remarked that age of the building is not the sole criteria to decide whether a particular structure is a heritage building or not.  Today’s Times of India reports that ‘in 10 days, part of the city’s history will be wiped out’!!

A major portion on the rear side of iconic P Orr & Sons building on Anna Salai is set to be razed with the Madras high court giving 10 days to the famous watch sellers to pull down the structure which is “beyond repair or restoration.  After holding in Mar 2012 that the building had no heritage value, last week a division bench of Justice Satish K Agnihotri and Justice M Venugopal passed the order upholding a single judge's decision to dismiss P Orr & Sons' offer to save the whole building by making repairs.

“We find that the structure in question is incapable of being repaired or restored. The photographs placed before us clearly indicate the precarious condition of the building. Since the building has been in a precarious condition and may result in causing loss to the occupant and the surrounding structures as opined by several experts, we are not inclined to interfere with the order of the single judge. We direct P Orr & Sons to demolish the building within a period of 10 days from today . In default, the authorities are at liberty to proceed with the demolition of the building as required under law,“ the bench said.

Associated Publishers Private Ltd is the owner of the building, and P Orr & Sons is the tenant. After the March 2012 order, a portion of the 120-year-old structure was demolished on April 9, 2012 to facilitate metro rail work. On April 1, 2013, the Corporation of Chennai served a notice for demolition of another portion of the building on grounds of safety. P Orr & Sons was instructed to take adequate safety measures to prop the remaining portion of the structure to avoid any untoward incident. The notice was issued on the basis of a study and report submitted by Indian Institute of Technology Madras in respect of the building's stability . The report said: “From a life safety standpoint, the remaining portion of the end and return walls are structurally in a precarious condition and pose a serious threat”.

Assailing the notice, P Orr & Sons filed a writ petition. A single judge hearing the matter formed a committee comprising a civil engineer, a retired chief engineer of the public works department and an advocate to inspect the property , note-down physical features, assess condition of the building and submit a report. The report by majority opined that the structure is unsafe. Accepting it, the judge dismissed the petition, prompting the watch sellers to file an appeal.

Based on the bench’s directive -  Council of Scientific & Industrial Research-Structural Engineering Research Centre (CSIR-SERC) inspected and opined walls and floors of the building were in a precarious condition and may pose a threat to the safety of occupants and surrounding structures.Noting that they had no reason not to accept the recommendation of the committee, the judges said, “We don't find any infirmity in the order passed by the single judge."

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

6th May 2015.

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