Colonial Government Press Building, Mint, Chennai - will it be restored soon?

The ethos of our and  society depends on what we create, sustains and preserve and at the same time what efforts we make to save  them  from demolition by way of total neglect or sheer wanton destruction. It is true so much of our future and the niceties of of our past civilization  depend on their conservation

Nowhere in the world do you see so many Indo-saracenic buildings of splendor as in Chennai or wonderful Victorian Gothic and art deco so close to each other as in Mumbai. There are hundreds of amazing heritage sites in countless cities/towns across India that are not  well publicized by the tourism departments of respective states. Pathetically, most of them  are  in poor state slowly crumbling.  Resource-starved  local bodies are unable to conserve them and  it is imperative that the local administration must approach the central or state governments including private sectors  for aids to preserve them for the posterity. Of late like many indian states, the TN government has been making efforts to conserve the heritage sites across Tamil Nadu. The conservation of  Government press building (Mint) in Chennai is one among the numerous projects  being undertaken by the state government to restore old structures. Some of them are marked out for reuse after restoration. This way they can save the building from demolition and avoid  construction of another building.   

In 2017, a proposal was made by the TN State government to renovate the L shaped Government  building at the Government Press Building complex, Mint street, Chennai, a classified heritage structure  with ground floor and first floor.  More than 133 years old, it was established  during the British colonial period. The unique feature is it has a 30ft wide entrance with an arch design which was quite unusual in other British buildings in   those days.   

The printing  press came up in 1888  not only to mint coins but also to produce gun powder for the fire arms being used by the military and the police.  After India's freedom in 1947 the government of Tamil Nadu made use of the government press complex to print gazetts and budget papers.   Left abandoned about 20 years ago,  the building fell into disuse and unfortunately, the main part of the structure, an unoccupied part  in 2013  was gutted in a fire accident. Later it was reconstructed by the state government to prevent further damages to the building which is a huge one covering 33000 sq.ft.

Abandoned colonial Govt. press bldg, Mint,  Chennai.

Because of total neglect of the building that remained unused for a pretty long period, the fine-Indo-Saracenic structurer was in bad shape.  Almost in ruins primarily due to poor upkeep and growth of vegetation creeping all over the building and compound walls  20% of the old architectural elements remained unaffected. Apart. pavement along  the periphery was used as a garbage dump and toilet in some places. The entire area along the compound wall filled with the reek of urine and human waste. The stink was much worse than Skunk's spray from its anal gland. 

According to the custodian of the building the PWD  Rs.14 crore will be spent on the renovation and by 2021 end the work would  be completed.  Special care would be taken to keep the left out heritage elements intact, particularly refitting the Madras terrace, Mogul plastering of walls, etc. Special efforts would be made to strengthen the brick  foundation The structure has a beautiful stairway to the first floor, typical of colonial era.    

Heritage buildings, Chennai.

Though the PWD is keen to go ahead with the restoration work as the funds are expected to be released soon for many projects- slated for conservation, for any future heritage restoration project, they are beset with certain inherent problems to carry on the work in the right course for the following reasons:  01. Difficulty in sourcing construction materials matching those of the original. 02. Lack of manpower with good experience in old architectural design work. 03. Shortage of manpower slows down the work and difficulty in getting the work done within the allotted time.  04. Most importantly, non  availability  of  civil construction contractors who have specialized in restoration work related to heritage buildings. 

Invariably 90% of the heritage buildings except religious places surveyed by the state department were built during the British era  and to restore them back to old glory engineers need special skill and expertise in many phases of conservation including strengthening the old foundation work. They also need skilled handle certain decorative works  matching those of the past era.  Among the structures 70% of them are in use and the rest are abandoned because of their dilapidated state. 

Efforts are underway and the PWD in association with various reputed educational  institutions is planning to take care of the heritage buildings that connect us with the past era.