Lit up at night, the long stretch of buildings that houses the Police Headquarters forms one of the more impressive sights of Chennai, a landmark that's a worthy memorial to the first modern policing institution in the country.
IT SPEAKS volumes for the slow growth of Madras that after Chepauk Palace was readied for the Nawab of the Carnatic in 1768, no other building activity took place on the road to San Thome what was known as South Beach Road and is now Kamarajar Salai till Col. Francis Capper built his home in the 1790s. Nothing else came up on this road for almost another 50 years!
It was in 1839 that south of Capper House and across from it there opened the next building to be raised on this road. Built in classical style for Rs.25,000 was this home of the Lodge of Perfect Unanimity, replete with Masonic symbols adorning its interior. The Masons, including Prince Umdat-ul-Umrah of Arcot, the first Indian to become a Mason in Madras, used the building till 1856 and then moved on. In 1865, the building took the first step towards becoming a Madras landmark, when the Madras Police, formalised in 1859, rented it as the headquarters it remains to this day.
The Madras (now Tamil Nadu) Police had its roots in the Town Watch that functioned under the Peddanaick from the first days of the settlement (1650s). It was in 1770 that there was discussion of a Board of Police for the first time and the Board first met in March that year, with Warren Hastings one of its members. This was a short-lived Board of Police that was replaced in 1780 by a Superintendent of Police, William Webb, to supervise the Peddanaick's peons. By 1782, Webb and his designation were no longer functional, but Stephen Popham, a lawyer, came up with a plan for policing Madras. Popham's is a name forgotten even in Broadway a description that is now a joke the road that separates the two pettais of Georgetown. Popham's plan was to be discussed only in 1786 and was then implemented by Governor Sir Archibald Campbell. This plan too fell out of favour in 1791 and an adaptation of it was introduced in 1797. The force organised under it was strengthened and more `Europeanised' when the Peddanaick's office was abolished in 1806.
In presenting his plan, Popham stated, "I know not of any place on Earth where a Police is so much wanted as in Madras, and which, by an Equable Taxation for the purposes thereof, might take off all Expense from the Hon'ble Company." The feature of these early police forces was that they would have both municipal and judicial functions. They were, to summarise the perceptions from Hastings' time to Popham's, viewed as registrars of Madras addresses, vehicles and carriage animals, arbiters of wage disputes between servants and employers, regulators of prices in the markets, and supervisors of the town's cleanliness, in addition to preserving law and order. There's been a bit of change since then, but echoes of the Popham philosophy remain in many of the duties of today's policeman.
The police reforms of 1859 led to W.Robinson of the Civil Service being appointed the first Inspector General of Police. Lt.Col.J.C.Balderson had been appointed Commissioner of Police, Madras City, in 1856. And from his time, successive heads of the Madras/Tamil Nadu police have sat in the spacious splendour of that Masonic Lodge, that was bought by the Government for Rs.20,000 in 1874. When the Criminal Investigation Department was formed in 1906, the colonnaded extension to the rear of the main block was added. Further colonnaded expansions were added, duplicating the first, between the two World Wars and, lastly, in 2001.
The latest extension was added and a duplicate building to its west promised after conservationists opposed a plan to pull the buildings down in 1993. The addition followed the renovation of the main blocks in 1998. Today, lit up at night, the long stretch of buildings that is Police Headquarters is one of the more impressive sights of Madras, a landmark building that's a worthy memorial to what was the first modern policing institution in the country. M.Bhaktavatsalam, Home Minister of Madras in 1959, wrote: "It is of considerable interest, as also a matter of parochial pride, that the Madras Act XXIV of 1859 attracted the attention of all other Provincial Governments in India prompting them to reform their Police Forces on the Madras model."
Police Headquarters' southern neighbour, another landmark and the first modern attempt in the city to go back to a traditional South Indian style of architecture, is in many ways a memorial to the beginning of radio in the country. All India Radio is celebrating its 75th year this year, but Madras was a bit ahead of that. It was in 1924 that Carnavalli V.Krishnaswamy, a Manchester-trained engineer of the Corporation of Madras, founded the Madras Presidency Radio Club and started the first broadcasting service in India. This was just four years after the Marconi programmes in Europe and two years after the BBC Krishnaswamy received considerable support from the Commissioner of the Corporation, G.T.Boag. The Club's station began its broadcasts with the first in India on July 31 from Holloway's Gardens, Egmore.
When the Club ran into financial difficulties in 1927, Krishnaswamy persuaded the Corporation to take over Madras Broadcasting and run it as a municipal service which it did from 1929 from Ripon Building, with the transmitter located near the then Zoo (another forgotten memory, but perhaps one better forgotten considering the condition it was in during its last years). All India Radio took over the Madras Municipal Broadcasting Service in 1938 and began broadcasts from a garden house in Marshall's Road, Egmore. The 250-watt medium wave transmitter was inaugurated by Governor Lord Erskine. The move to new buildings on the Marina, to the rear of the present landmark, was made in 1954 and the garden house 40 or so years later has made way for high-rise. The present home of AIR, Madras, with its massive doorway and tall-pillared entrance was opened in 1963. In 1977, India's first ever-regular FM service was broadcast from this station. Krishnaswamy's transmitter, sometime during these years, found a niche in the Madras Museum.
The story of the Madras Police was told upto 1959 for its centenary, in a compilation by DSP K.G.Narayanaswamy. It's time the story of Madras Radio is also recorded. Meanwhile the neighbouring landmarks at the end of `The Marina' remain memorials to pioneering efforts at modernisation in the city.
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