Tamil Nadu creates an Assembly replica for COVID-19
Almost everything has been reproduced with more spacing at a new venue in Kalaivanar Arangamby Dennis S. Jesudasan
When the Tamil Nadu Assembly met on Monday, the historic chamber looked just the same. Only, it was not at Fort St. George. Over 150 workers had worked for nearly 10 days and nights, and multiple departments of the Tamil Nadu government coordinated closely to recreate a replica of the House a few kilometres away, in the relatively new Kalaivanar Arangam, Chennai.
Kalaivanar Arangam, a theatre-cum-convention venue under the control of the Information and Public Relations (I&PR) Department on Wallajah Salai, was chosen for the Assembly’s three-day session in view of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was considered spacious enough to ensure physical distancing norms for legislators and officials.
Soon after Speaker P Dhanapal announced the session on September 1, the Public Works Department (PWD) along with the I&PR and Assembly Secretariat swung into action to create the replica Assembly in the multi-purpose hall on the third floor of Kalaivanar Arangam, which offers over 10,000 sq.ft. of area.
“We worked day and night to complete the work. We commenced work soon after the Speaker’s announcement. We planned to replicate every single thing in the original,” said a PWD official. Except for the prominent chandelier in Assembly Hall, almost everything else could be produced.
One original remains
Yet, one major original piece was retained – the historic Chair of the Assembly Speaker, which has been shifted to the temporary venue. This Chair, resembling the Speaker’s Chair in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, was presented in March 1922 by Lord Willingdon, Governor of Madras Presidency and Lady Willingdon, to the President of the Madras Legislative Council as a personal gift.
The PWD’s collection of wooden chairs and other furniture in the MLAs’ hostel near the Arangam came in handy. “It is a mix of own property and hired furniture,” an official said.
But, if everything was replicated, then what was different in this House to ensure physical distancing and safety norms against COVID-19? “The spacing between rows and columns of chairs. That was the primary reason behind choosing this venue. Also, we have installed several ceiling fans to circulate air-conditioned air. The doors will not be closed even if the AC is on,” he pointed out.
The PWD had some portraits of leaders and historical personalities found in the traditional Hall at Fort St. George, and that came in handy. “But, we did not have other portraits, and had to make them afresh,” the official said.
Apart from the Speaker, legislators, seven Secretary-level IAS officers and over 50 journalists, there is no place for anyone else, including visitors. Even the number of Assembly officials had to be restricted to avoid crowding.
Besides the Assembly Hall, chambers for the Speaker, Chief Minister, Deputy Chief Minister and the Leader of the House, Leader of the Opposition, lounges for MLAs, rooms for officers and a media room all spread across three floors of the sprawling building are part of the temporary shift to Kalaivanar Arangam.