On 4 April 2003, the then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa informed the State Assembly that the “rundown” buildings on the 30-acre, 88-year old Queen Mary's College (QMC) on Marina beach in Chennai would be razed to make way for a brand new secretariat complex. Earlier on in January the state government had inked a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Malaysian Government's Construction Industry Development Board for several development projects in the state, including the proposal for an administrative city (housing the secretariat) on the southern outskirts of Chennai. But when the initial feasibility study indicated a time span of fifteen years to realise this proposal, the Chief Minister settled in for an interim alternative to relocate the Secretariat Complex at the site of the Queen Mary's College.

This was not the first time that the state government had sought to relocate the Secretariat. Since the 1980s, it has expressed itself to be inadequately housed in the Fort St. George Complex, also located on Marina Beach, and has time and again looked for alternative sites and accommodation but nothing had come to fruition. This time there seemed to be some urgency to the proposal coming at a juncture when Chennai was making all-out efforts to place itself on the network of global cities, with corresponding architecture projects endorsing its commitment to globalisation and high-technology development. The new Secretariat complex complete with ‘state-of-the-art facilities’ was meant to be an exemplar, reinforcing the transnational aspirations of the government. But such intentions proved to be far from ground reality as the proposal provoked protests from a wide range of interest groups beyond anyone's imagination.

Within hours, an impromptu ‘Save QMC’ movement was launched and support snowballed quickly from various quarters including teachers’ associations, women's groups, human rights, environment and heritage activists. All concerns ranging from women's education to environment and heritage protection came to a heady mix in this crisis where nine different Public Interest Litigation (PILs) petitions were filed from different quarters including the Tamil Nadu Government Collegiate Teachers’ Association and the Students’ Federation of India, the Citizen, Consumer and Civil Action Group (CAG), and the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH). They all expressed inter-related concerns as the former argued that the location prioritised and privileged women's education, the CAG petition claimed violation of a host of existing development laws, including the provisions of the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ), the Town and Country Planning Act and the Constitution, while INTACH argued that the QMC complex was part of the 12 buildings on the Marina Beach stretch identified as a heritage precinct.