Bantony Castle could haunt Dhumal !

Is the BJP led Prem Kumar Dhumal government in Himachal Pradesh too late in taking corrective steps to sort out the Bantony castle controversy.

The controversy surrounding this Raj era building has been raging all winter and summer in Shimla but it is only now that chief minister Dhumal has ordered top officials of the state government to acquire the building in public interest.

Bantony

But observers say action has been taken late. Also a serious effort was made by the state government to relax building norms in the heritage area of Shimla to allow a commercial complex, some say a sprawling five star hotel to be built at Bantony.

BJP insiders say the three and a half year old BJP government has already taken a dent as the government acted only when its intentions were fully exposed by angry heritage activists and the local media.

The sudden order to acquire Bantony castle late Tuesday has also been clearly speeded up by the senior BJP leader Shanta Kumar shooting of a letter to the BJP high command asking the party to weed out corruption and family politics in all BJP ruled states.

There is also a pending complaint by Kangra MP Rajant Sushant to the BJP president about the growing corruption at high places in Himachal Pradesh.

All these may have prompted the government here to take action ahead of the state monsoon assembly session next month.

Observers say the opposition Congress has no reason to gloat over the BJP taking a back step on the Bantony castle issue as it has hardly been vocal on the controversy all these months.

The 19 the century colonial Bantony castle is perched on a Ridge near Grand hotel building and overlooks downtown Shimla.

Until a few years ago it housed the state police headquarters but was vacated after a court verdict in favour of the owners.

After this there was speculation that it is being purchased by powerful people to build a hotel. Recently a London based NRI had sought permission to build a spa resort from the state’s tourism department.

No permission is allowed to build high rise structures under the existing laws in the fragile heritage zone of old Shimla,but new laws are now being proposed by the government to allow multi-storied structures,many say largely to accommodate the proposed resort project at Bantony among others.

But conservationists and heritage lovers should not rest until the proposed draconian law seeking to allow multi-storied buildings on the fragile slopes of Shimla is put into the garbage bin.

In a 20 year career published widely. He has worked for the BBC, AFP, The Statesman, IANS and the Business Standard . Known for his hard hitting writing and occasional off-beat stories. He lives in Shimla.

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4 Comments

  1. says: Vishwa Nath Sood-Co-owner Bantony

    Successive governments had been continuously ruining BANTONY under their occupation as tenants.
    Why should the right of the owners to repair /renovate (and if the need is felt to re-build) their property ,strictly following and abiding by the rules & bye-laws of Municipal Corporation as well as other rules applicable to this property be snatched simply because of political tussle and media hype? There are many other heritage properties in Shimla (Some belong to political big wigs). Those should also be acquired to save the so called heritage. Why pick & choose?

  2. says: Avay Shukla

    I am in complete agreement with Mr. Sood that owners of heritage buildings should be allowed to renovate their properties WITHIN THE PARAMETERS OF EXISTING BUILDING LAWS.The problem is that the govt. has consistently failed to ensure this, either through ineptitude or downright collusion- just look at Willowbanks or the massive building coming up on the site of the old Marina Hotel. Bantony falls in both the Core Area as well as the Heritage Zone and no redevelopment is permissible here except along old lines and in accordance with the recommendations of the Heritage Committee. But acquisition of such properties by the govt. is simply a knee-jerk reaction and is no solution. How many such properties will the govt. acquire? And for what public purpose? The govt. is itself the biggest defaulter when it comes to observing Town Planning laws or respecting the environment- we need to look no further than the Indira Gandhi Sports complex opposite the lift, or the Secretariat building. Therefore acquisition of Bantony by the govt. is no guarantee that the heritage qualities of this property will be respected in future- it does not matter which party is in the govt. There is no alternative to honest and good governance or impartial enforcement of laws. The reported move of the present govt. to allow multi-storey buildings in Shimla will be the final nail in the coffin of Shimla, which is already surviving on life-support systems.

    1. says: Vishwa Nath Sood

      I am thankful to Mr. Shukla for agreeing with my stand and his deep concern about ruthless and unthoughtful construction. He has quoted examples which hit the nail on the head.
      I have been hearing about one Mr. Abhay Shukla IAS (never had the pleasure and fortune to see him). I have an intuition that these comments written above are by the same officer. If I am right in my guess, I wish we had more of such outspoken and fearless officers.He is absolutely right to question that how many properties belonging to private people could be acquired by H P Government.Does it matter as long as law and rules are STRICTLY enforced and abided by, who builds BANTONY….Owner or X Y Z. Why should it be a problem to political parties and media? Or is it some agricutural tract of land where the farmer may be cheated and made landless?

  3. says: anuj goel

    Our family has been fighting to get back this property from the past four decades and when finally it was in our handlLegally ,what kind of restoration of heritage came into our government’s thinktank , I fail to understand. Our Governments over the past years are responsible for the state it is today. Rightly commented by Mr.Shukla and Mr Sood that acquisition is not the answer to this. If this is the right way of restoring our heritage , 40% of Shimla properties should be acquired so as to restore our so called heritage.

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