The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Jaya land hunt leads to science hub

Chennai, Sept. 14: Jayalalithaa is out hunting for land again for a new secretariat complex, this time adjacent to the country’s biggest technological varsity of Anna University here.

This is the third major effort in the past nine months to kickstart the Rs 300-crore project, even before the dust has settled at Queen Mary’s College that was second in the line-up.

The powers-that-be feel that their current seat of Fort St. George is “in substantially bad shape and cramped for want of additional space”.

The site had first assumed importance when the English settlements on the Coromandal coast established headquarters there in 1654.

The hunt for land began early this year when the ADMK government signed a memorandum of understanding with Malaysia. A study of the feasibility of building an “Administrative City” on the way to the tourist centre of Mamallapuram from Chennai never took off.

Jayalalithaa later said during the budget session that the “dream project” was too huge, requiring huge funds and time “up to 20 to 25 years to complete”.

Her government then set sights on the oldest women’s college in the country’s south. The aim was a quickie secretariat, to be built in two years.

The demolition of the heritage college buildings that this entailed provoked widespread protests. Environmentalists and political parties were up in arms, prompting the arrest of DMK youth wing leader M.K. Stalin. He had allegedly trespassed into the college and incited students to protest against the government’s move.

As that case awaits a resolution in Madras High Court, Jayalalithaa has zeroed in on 43.20 acres at Kotturpuram or Kottur, much of it adjacent to Anna University’s main Guindy campus.

Armed with a government order, the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority wants the new secretariat modelled on “the Vidhana Soudha of Bangalore, as an example, or an even more majestic facade and with modern facilities as in Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi”.

A few days ago, the authority called for tenders on designs for the complex, which “will have about 10 lakh to 12 lakh square feet of super built-up area in the basement, ground plus five upper floors, with provision for additional three floors in the future”.

“The entire project is to be completed within a period of 24 months from the selection of architect,” the notification added.

If the project takes off, it will “disturb” the serenity of the campus, sources in the field of education said. The campus from Kotturpuram to Taramani in Chennai’s south, including IIT-Madras, was proposed to be designated an “institutional area” and developed into a “science city”.

Sources said the university’s expansion plans, too, would be affected, though the government has assured alternative sites. The Opposition’s protests notwithstanding, Jayalalithaa’s “dream project” may well prove third time lucky unless someone sets up a legal hurdle first.

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