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Marina midnight knock-down

Chennai, Aug. 10: The city today woke to the loss of a familiar landmark — a concrete platform on the Marina beach associated with public rallies and meetings since the days of the struggle for Independence.

The structure was razed in a surprise demolition operation that began around midnight yesterday and went on till 3.30 am.

“They came with three bulldozers around 11.30 last night and straight got into the act,” a witness said. Police had thrown a cordon on both sides of the approach road, disallowing even press photographers from taking pictures. A few of them were roughed up. This morning, there was no trace of the platform and the place was covered with sand.

Seerani Arangam, as it was popularly known, literally means a stage or a raised platform built voluntarily by a group of people. It was built on the spot called Thilak Square where nationalist rallies addressed, among others, by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and Mahatma Gandhi, were held before Independence.

Later, top national leaders including Kamaraj, Indira Gandhi, Jaiprakash Narayan and Rajiv Gandhi and state leaders like Annadurai, M. Karunanidhi and chief minister Jayalalithaa addressed rallies from the platform.

In a statement issued late tonight, the government clarified that the stage was demolished as it was unsafe for public use and had become a hub of anti-social activities. It was pulled down on the advice of Chennai Corporation and the police on ecological considerations.

A committee for the monitoring and development of beaches in the state has also been set up, the statement added.

Earlier in the day, the reason for the demolition, carried out under the supervision of the public works department (PWD) with assistance from the police and the corporation, were foggy as PWD minister . Pannerselvam’s office stonewalled queries. “The minister is not in town and you will have to wait till Monday,” was the answer.

Interestingly, the Tamil Nadu BJP had scheduled a rally at Seerani Arangam on August 25 and invited deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani to deliver a speech to mark the completion of the party’s rath yatra from Kanyakumari.

Though Advani has not confirmed his participation, the demolition has shaken the local BJP.

More than a year ago, another landmark, a statue of Kannagi, a Tamil woman icon, was removed in the face of strident criticism from a spot near the platform by the Jayalalithaa regime allegedly on Vaastu advice.

The government now wants to move the Queen Mary’s College housed in heritage buildings close to the Marina to make way for a new secretariat.

A few days ago, Madras High Court reserved its order against the demolition of one of the oldest women’s institutions in the country.

Reacting to the demolition, DMK president M. Karunanidhi said: “Anything can happen under the ADMK regime and it is pointless to talk of justice or injustice.” He, however, declined to comment on whether the platform was pulled down, as of late, many evangelical meetings were being held there.

He said the Arangam was given a concrete shape by the DMK’s volunteer force when C.. Annadurai was the chief minister in the late 1960s, but dispelled the impression that his party had changed its name to Seerani Arangam.

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