Shimla: The government failed to acquire prime heritage property of Bantony Castle that is located on The Ridge on three occasions earlier and may just be lucky this time provided a market rate upwards of Rs 45 crores is paid, something that may hard to justify in crunch times.
After London based entrepreneur Ranjay Tehran with local partner Arun Sood plans of converting Bantony into a luxury hotel became known, in knee-jerk reaction chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, a week ago, asked the urban development department to start compulsory acquisition.
When contacted, Manisha Shiridar, principal secretary urban development said, â€œWe are processing the case for acquisition of Bantony estate.â€
Peeved about the governmentâ€™s plans to acquire the heritage property, Vishwa Nath Sood, co-owner of Bantony says, â€œitâ€™s only a ploy. They have only become concerned about its heritage after the courts declared the building unsafe and asked the tenant police department, who occupied the building for over half a century, to vacate it.â€
Sources revealed that the owners have struck a conditional deal with Tehran for Rs 45 crore, provided the government approved the luxury spa project for which an application was submitted in April, 2011.
Vishwa Nath, who was not averse to the government taking over the prime property provided market rates are paid for, the whole property is acquired and no forceful acquisition is resorted to adds, â€œthe modus operandi is to offer very nominal prices and let the owner fight a long and lonely legal battle, something which we were forced to take recourse to within 10 days after buying Bantony.â€
Either the government pays market rate to acquire it or lets us use the property for livelihood purposes. Compulsory acquisition will again be challenged at all costs, he said.
Bought in Feb 1968, just ten days after the deal the government attempted to acquire the property. Courts settled the matter in favor of the owners in 1971. The second attempt was made during emergency in 1975-83 and third in 1986-96, but all failed.
About heritage Vishwa Nath says “as tenants the police department made holes into every wall of Bantony so that smoke from coal fired stoves (Bhukhari’s) could escape, wood ceiling were damaged and the outer facade was ruined.”
Antique billiard table, an organ piano, metal ware made at Nahan Foundary and several other artifacts have gone missing, he claimed.
Heritage has been desecrated at several places in Shimla – starting with Peterhoff that has been turned into a hotel, Willow Banks, Marina Hotel and several others. In case of Bantony why a different yardstick and how many properties can be acquired to safeguard heritage, questions the beleaguered co-owner of Bantony?
From British owner Captain Gordon, Bantony was bought by Sirmaur Maharaja in 1880 to build a Ridge top summer house. He in turn sold it to Maharaja of Dharbhanga (Bihar) from who it passed to the present owners.
Soon after partition, Punjab University from Lahore was re-located at Bantony before moving to Solan. Though ownerships changed but the building since pre-Independence days remained occupied by government agencies as tenants, which included Punjab Police till 1966 and Himachal Police after that.
On court orders after the building was declared unsafe it was vacated in September, 2010 and handed over to the owners in February, 2011.