Metropolitan Magistrate Court building of George Town, Chennai - now a protected heritage monument!!

The ''heritage activism''  and value of  buildings older than 100 years dawned on the people of Chennai and  Govt. officials after the unfortunate fire mishap in 1985 that completely destroyed a land- mark erstwhile colonial shopping complex - Moore market near MGR Central Railway Station in Chennai.  ''Heritage activism'' was given a big boost.

Heritage buildings are defined as  those  ''notified structures of historical, architectural, or cultural significance''. The state government in 1997  embarked on a serious steps to  protect and conserve numerous heritage buildings in Chennai.  To go into detailed aspects   related to enactment of the Heritage Act,  the state government in 1998   formed  a committee  of Town and Country Planning  headed by  a Director.  Next to Kolkata  Chennai is home to the second largest number of of heritage buildings in the country, 

 To conserve heritage buildings  in the Chennai Metropolitan Area (MCA) in 1999,  Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA)  constituted a Heritage Conservation Committee to draft regulations.  Only  on 2 September 2008, special rules for conservation of heritage buildings/precincts came into force.  After long deliberations and discussions in 2010  a list of   criteria for listing the heritage structures in the CMA region was finalized, and in 2011, the process of assessment and documentation of heritage structures had begun.  The official list of heritage buildings was compiled by the Justice E. Padmanabhan committee.  In 2013 countless owners objected to the listing  of their buildings under the heritage tag, but  HCC overruled their objections. Categorization of  structures  into three grades Grades I, II, and III   was introduced and among them  ''Grade I structures will be prime landmarks upon which no alterations will be permitted''. external changes may be made on Grade II buildings. As  for Grade III,   suitable internal and external changes can  be allowed  for 'adaptive reuse'. It means the renovated structures can be put to use. 

Metropolitan Magistrate court,

Metropolitan Magistrate court, Chennai

Metropolitan Magistrate Court on the Rajaji Salai, Chennai  is housed in a fine colonial building built  during the British Raj. It is one of the  subordinate courts  started with other courts during the same period to deal with more litigation.


Metropolitan Magistrate court,

Above image: The metropolitan Magistrate Court on Rajaji Salai, Chennai (Madras).  Fine ceramic ornamentation around the gothic styled windows...........................

This 3-story  architecturally well made red-brick colored structure looks like a dwarf sandwiched between two popular and large heritage buildings -  State Bank of India and the General Post Office. On account of this  subtle contrast many visitors to this place miss this simple, but impressive building with rectangular plan.  This structure that looks like a box is made of quality brick with lime-sand mortar and thick walls, and Madras terraced roof well supported by thick beams and sturdy rafters made from teak wood. The design is a bit  of departure from European styled building as the top roof is flat and  there is no slanting roof. 

Metropolitan Magistrate court,

In the fa├žade of the  building there is  a series of  symmetrical pointed arched windows within the rectangular panels that carry ornamental ceramic decoration, imparting  an inspiring look from out side. This kind of ceramic ornamentation on British-era structures is rare.  On the ground floor the pointed arches are large. The advantage of Madras terrace roof and a series of windows is it allows cross ventilation and good air circulation inside and keeps  the interior of the building cool  and comfortable, irrespective of hot weather condition prevailing outside. Though built in 1880, for unknown reasons, it was declared open in 1890. 

The most impressive aspect of countless British-era structures, mansions or railway bridges, etc is  intense dedication shown by the British engineers whose approach was methodical . Because of their quality of work most of them have survived this day despite poor upkeep by the Indian government. A case in point is the  British-era District Court building with a turret clock in  the heart of Tiruchi city. Built in 1919 in the recent past it completed 100 years  and the Tiruchi legal fraternity asked the government to give it a heritage tag. The pieces of furniture were made from quality wood imported from England.  If our officials had shown one tenth of dedication and commitment shown by the British, we would save saved countless monuments across India that were lost due to sheer negligence. This is also true of civil works like road-laying, etc. Frankly speaking, we lack  total commitment.

The conservationists  from  INTAH (Indian National Trust for Arts and Cultural Heritage) involved in the restoration of the structure had to face certain issues like deposition of coal dust, etc., on the walls and roof.  In 2012 the INTACH was entrusted with the job of renovating and conserving  5 courts in Chennai: The George Town Metropolitan Magistrate’s Court, the Small Causes Court in the High Court campus, the Egmore Metropolitan Magistrate’s Court, the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate’s Court, Egmore, and the Saidapet Court. It shows that the Madras High court had immense trust in the quality of work being done by INTACH who had several projects going across India. 


Among the Indian cities,  Chennai Metropolitan  Area (CMA) has the highest number of  heritage sites as many as 2,467  dating back to the Pallava period..