1. What is the background of INTACH, Pondicherry?

INTACH Pondicherry Chapter was started in 1984 under the Convenorship of Jayanthilal Parekh. Being a unique city with its distinct French and Tamil architectural heritage, the activities of the Pondicherry chapter were directed towards its protection. It was during this period that the first heritage database - listing, grading and mapping of the 1800 heritage buildings in French and Tamil Towns was carried out in collaboration with EFEO (Ecole Francais d’Extrême Orient's) scholars like Pierre Pichard and Francoise l’Hernault. This list is kept updated and a copy is given to the Pondicherry Planning Authority (PPA) for the purpose of scrutinizing building applications.

The organization's work in Architectural Heritage got a boost with a workshop held at the EFEO in 1988 by professors and students of various architecture colleges with the help of K.T.Ravindran of the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi. The interest was furthered by architects like Toshak Patel and Ajit Koujalgi. In 1998 the Conservation Cell was started with funding from the Town and Country Planning Department (TCPD), Government of Pondicherry to help the process of heritage preservation. Now the organisation works with various Government departments like the Pondicherry Planning Authority (PPA), Public Works Department (PWD), Art & Culture, Tourism, Municipality, EFEO and Institut français de Pondichéry (IFP) apart from the individual building owners, architects and engineers.

2. What is the set up of INTACH Pondicherry?

The Convenor of the organisation is Mrs. M. K. Sayekumari- a native of Pondicherry who takes care of the general policy matters. She is also actively involved in several social causes.The Co-convenors are Ajit Koujalgi (Architect) who is in charge of matters related to architectural heritage and Ashok Panda who takes care of general management.

The organization’s work in Architectural Heritage got a boost with a workshop held at the EFEO in 1988 by professors and students of various architecture colleges with the help of K.T.Ravindran of the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi. The interest was furthered by architects like Toshak Patel and Ajit Koujalgi. In 1998 the Conservation Cell was started with funding from the Town and Country Planning Department (TCPD), Government of Pondicherry to help the process of heritage preservation. Now the organisation works with various Government departments like the Pondicherry Planning Authority (PPA), Public Works Department (PWD), Art & Culture, Tourism, Municipality, EFEO and Institut français de Pondichéry (IFP) apart from the individual building owners, architects and engineers.

3. How do we become members?

Interested individuals can fill out a standard form with required membership fee (annual/life/student/institutional memberships) and submit it to us. However, even without being a member one can offer his / her voluntary work to the organisation.

4. What is the understanding between Pondicherry Planning Authority (PPA), Town & Country Planning Department (TCPD) & INTACH?

The Conservation Cell of INTACH was established as an advisory body and funded by the TCPD (in 1998) to work in 5 specific areas as follows:

  1. To act as an interface with the public to achieve conservation objectives

  2. To help frame conservation and architectural control guidelines

  3. To update listing and prepare documentation to educate the public

  4. To provide architectural consultancy to building owners and architects to enable them to convert/modernize/extend/rebuild and newly build their buildings in harmony with the architectural character of the street/locality/town at a reasonable rate.

  5. To assist Planning Authorities in clearing the building applications in the Boulevard Town by interacting with owners and builders to find ways to preserve the structure, failing which suggest architectural façade design to ensure that the new building blends harmoniously in the heritage areas.

5.What is a heritage value building?

There is a definition of national standard (issued by the Ministry of Urban Development) for listing and grading of buildings which are to be adopted according to the regional context. In the case of Pondicherry, apart from the major monuments like Lighthouse, Raj Nivas, Churches, Temples, Mosques, and the Ashram, all the old houses and buildings built with traditional materials and having traditional architectural features (French/Tamil) -are considered as heritage value buildings. The grading (I, IIA, IIB and III) is based on historic significance, aesthetic values, , architectural features etc.

6.What is the state of heritage preservation in other towns and cities of india?

In Mumbai, Hyderabad and Nagpur, heritage legislation has been passed and there is a heritage committee that is now an integral part of the city’s Planning and Development Authority. In Delhi, Urban Arts Commission (UAC) takes care of the notified heritage buildings and new developments in historic areas. In Mumbai, Urban Design Research Institute (UDRI) and Bombay Environmental Action Group with the support of Mumbai Metropolitan Development Authority (MMDA) are playing a key role in the conservation of the historic buildings.

In Ahmedabad, the Foundation for Conservation and Research of Urban Traditional Architecture (CRUTA) is being funded by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation to document and preserve the old buildings and to conduct heritage walking tours for visitors.

In Cochin and Chennai, the local INTACH chapters are trying to push for heritage legislation (like in Mumbai). However, unfortunately, in places like Chidambaram, Kumbakonam, Chettinad where there are many interesting precincts and buildings there is no institution or government initiative to protect the architectural heritage and these towns are fast losing their traditional image.

7. Why protect all private houses - isn’t it sufficient just to protect monuments and grand buildings like the lighthouse or Raj Nivas?

Pondicherry does not have a large number of monumental buildings (in fact 99% of all buildings are residential structures) but still it has a special charm and especially the visitors and tourists are captivated and intrigued by it- why?

This is because the hundreds of ordinary houses, built in the traditional style, whether in Tamil or French parts, give it the defining character. It is these houses that create the special character of the streets and a collection of these streets form the town.

In the French part it is the orderly villas with their simple fenestrations, ornate cornices, pilasters, balconies and elaborate gateways that set the tone and ambience. In the Tamil part, it is the endless rows of verandahs and pillars that give a special feel to the town. The essence of any vernacular architecture (almost anywhere in the world) is that they share common patterns and language that is repeated in endless diversity. All houses are similar, but no two houses are same - and that’s the beauty of it. Also these houses are solidly built and well adapted to climatic and social conditions.

8. Why could INTACH Conservation Cell not stop the demolition of some heritage buildings (like the significant Naidu Lodge Building in Jawaharlal Nehru Street)?

In the first place, INTACH Conservation Cell is only an advisory body and has no statutory powers to take action against violations or illegal proceedings - the maximum limit is that it can state its opinion to PPA and TCPD seeking further action from them.

In the case of Naidu Lodge building in Jawaharlal Nehru Street, the two partners (brothers) were introduced to an alternate design scheme where the old front portion could be retained and integrated with the new commercial complex intended by the owners. One of the partners was convinced and the other was not. A structural engineer was also present, who gave his opinion that the front portion of the old building could be very well preserved. A complete documentation was done of the existing building. Letters were sent to PPA and TCPD seeking their co-operation - however the power of political influence and money won the situation.

Similar to the loss of the above building, there are about 500 buildings demolished over the last 5 years - 75% of them without prior permission. This clearly shows that the effort of INTACH Conservation Cell alone is not enough for preserving the heritage and that there should be co-operation from heritage building owners, professionals of construction industry and the government.