Bharat Insurance building
It is a building that has stood the test of time, and even weathered a demolition attempt. But now it is hard to get a glimpse of the 114-year-old Bharat Insurance building, considered a fine example of Indo-Saracenic architecture. After years of neglect, its owner Life Insurance Corporation has completely draped it with plastic sheets because of a court order.
“We have put sheets as per a court order to provide minimum maintenance,” say officials from LIC’s corporate communications department. Kalpana K, conservation architect, says what the building needs is a temporary roof to prevent rainwater from entering the imposing structure on Anna Salai.
Heritage enthusiasts and owners of private buildings have been waging a battle in the courts for Bharat Insurance building and the historic Gokhale Hall on Armenian Street.
The Bharat Insurance building built in 1897 has elegant, stained glass panels, domes and minarets. Once a lively commercial centre, it started deteriorating due to poor maintenance, say conservationists. LIC, which became the owner in 1956, tried to demolish it in 2006. The Madras high court stayed it after the Indian National Trust for Architectural and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) filed a public interest litigation. Ever since, the building has remained open to the vagaries of nature as both sides sought legal intervention. “We got an interim order to preserve the building. LIC appealed to the Supreme Court which referred the matter back to the HC,” says NL Rajah, counsellor for INTACH.
The HC issued a comprehensive order in 2009, asking the state government to submit a report on the building and also form a conservation committee to handle protection of other heritage structures. The heritage committee said in its report to the HC that the building should be preserved, reiterating its heritage value. Meanwhile, LIC filed a petition with the SC in 2010, where it used a technical report to argue that since the building is structurally unsound, it should be allowed to redevelop the property so it will resemble the old building in design. It also stated that the building has not been listed as a ‘heritage’ structure anywhere and proposed an eight-storeyed complex in its place.
While the hearing is yet to come up, the building, which has a partially damaged roof, has been covered by LIC. Conservationists fear that more litigation is in the offing as Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority is in the process of identifying heritage buildings to compile a list of the city’s protected structures.
What is needed is a comprehensive act, says historian V Sriram. Though the government made an announcement in October 2010 about finalising a heritage bill, many fear that it will be too late for restoring Bharat Insurance building.
Bharat Insurance building is located on Anna Salai ( Mount Road )