For the first time in 10 years, Tamil Nadu’s Legislative assembly session is likely to take place outside the historic Fort St. George in Chennai, which is often described as the seat of power, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The decision has been taken as physical distancing cannot be achieved in the available space at Fort St. George. However, this isn’t the first time the venue of the Tamil Nadu Assembly has been changed.
Kalaivanar Arangam, a three-storeyed fully air-conditioned building situated at Walajah Road in Chennai, has been chosen as the alternative venue for the session. The session is likely to take place on the third floor of the building. The space is closer to the MLAs’ hostel and has a huge space for parking. The auditorium was primarily used for conducting dramas and other musical events.
The previous budget session of the Tamil Nadu government was adjourned on March 24, ahead of the scheduled closure on April 9, due to the pandemic. While inspecting the newly built space, Tamil Nadu Assembly Speaker P Dhanapal told reporters that things were only in the initial stage and a final decision would be taken in few days. “Following a request to find a safe space to hold the assembly session, we Inspected Kalaivanar Arangam today. We have not finalised anything, the decision will be made known to you (reporters),” he said.
From 1921-1937, the assembly session was held at the council chambers inside the Fort. While work was underway to transform the hall, the assembly was convened at the Senate Hall in the Madras University between 1937 –1938 and later at the Government House’s Banqueting Hall from January 1938 – October 1939.
During World War II, the assembly was suspended and was later moved back at Fort St.George. Between 1952 – 1956, when Sri Prakasa served as the Governor of Madras, the session was held at a space (now Kalaivanar Arangam) in Government Estate. In 1957, it moved back to Fort St.George. In 1959, for a brief period, the session was held at the Arnamore Palace in Udhagamandalam (Ooty) following the Andhra Pradesh and Madras Alteration of Boundaries Act. After a few months, it returned to the assembly hall inside Fort St.George.
In April 2003, during the AIADMK regime, Jayalalithaa had proposed a plan to demolish a part of the building inside the Queen Marry’s College (QMC) campus to make way for a new secretariat complex. Following the announcement, several women students, staff and other activists had gathered near the campus and protested against the government’s decision.
DMK leader MK Stalin, a former Mayor of Chennai, was even arrested alongside other former DMK ministers for trespassing the college premises. Stalin had gone to express his solidarity with the women students who were staging a sit-in protest. The plan was later shelved by the Jayalalithaa government following legal and political pressure. A few months later in 2004, Jayalalithaa came with another plan of constructing the secretariat building in Kottupuram. The former Chief Minister even did a bhoomi pujan for the project. However, the project didn’t take off.
During the 13th Assembly session, then Chief Minister Karunanidhi had announced to shift the assembly secretariat and the offices of Chief Minister and other cabinet ministers from Fort St.George to the Omandurar Government Estate. As a result, parts of the Kalaivanar Arangam situated near the estate were demolished in 2009.
By 2010, the construction work of the new secretariat building was completed. The Karunanidhi-led DMK government even held an assembly session in 2010 at the estate. However, after AIADMK returned to power in 2011, the secretariat and assembly departments moved back to Fort St.George. The dream of the DMK leader was shattered. The Omandurar Government Estate was converted to a multi-specialty hospital. The Kalaivanar Arangam got renovated in February 2016.
(With inputs from Madras Rediscovered by Chennai historian S.Muttiah)