At Rs 45 Crore, Will Himachal government finally acquire Bantony Castle?

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, “We are processing the case for acquisition of Bantony estate.”

Bantony Castle, In thick of controversy

Peeved about the government’s plans to acquire the heritage property, Vishwa Nath Sood, co-owner of Bantony says, “it’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.”

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, “the 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.”

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.

As Editor, Ravinder Makhaik leads a team of media professionals at Hill Post. Spanning a career of over two decades in mass communication, as a Documentary Filmmaker, TV journalist, Print Media journalist and with Online & Social Media, he brings with him a vast experience. He lives in Shimla.

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3 Comments

  1. says: anuj goel

    Our Government needs to channelize its funds in the right direction where a common man has an advantage and not wasting it on some stupid acquistion which will only hurt the owners of the place. Our state is lacking in good medical services, we all know that when someone in our family is a bit seriously ill we have to run down to Chandigarh or Delhi for medical help, why arent our funds not put in our big buildings called hospitals so that we dont have to run around to save ourselves. Sports facilities in Himachal are at worse, we are not able to groom international level players/atheletes just because we don’t have the infrastructure. There are so many other issues which are of help for himachalis. “Leave aside Bantony and think of something better for Shimla and Himachal Our dear heads of state.”

  2. says: Vishwa Nath Sood

    The main write up by Mr Makhaik was read in Times Of India but the above write up came to my notice just now. Mr Goel’s observations deserve consideration and need practical shape to be given. But then where from the government should import the WILL to enforce right decisions and implement right projects? .The funds which come into government coffers are meant to be squandered and not used for welfare. Spending money on Bantony by government will be in no different style. When the owners, way back in the year 2004, showed their intentions to protect the heritage value of this building and gave a written offer to enter into a legal agreement so that the Bantony could be restored / repaired as per directions and designs of the government and then handed over to HP Government so that H P Govt could continue as tenants and in the bargain owners could save their decaying structure, why an indifferent attitude was adopted? Government intends to do something on a private property which the owner can do by spending less than half the amount and in better manner and quicker time. This is harassment to the owners as well as wastage of public money. Now Commissioner MC Shimla wants to shift there. What a choice! An Unsafe and weak structure, space problem and many other negative points.Saying goes, “Fools walk in where angels fear to tread”. Police department heaved a sigh of relief by moving out of this place where they were being forced and made to work by indifferent big bosses (Because rent was negligible) despite many odds and now Corporation Authorities are keen to occupy this place where from every right thinking officer wanted to run away along with his staff. We see many photographs published of front side of Bantony in various newspapers. Has anybody bothered to go and click photographs of its western and backside? The real story of the damage can be seen if some one projects pictures from that angle.Owners have never been allowed to take a deep sigh of relief since they purchased this property. Within 10 days first acquisition attempt starts. Now in February, 2011 it was ultimately vacated and within less than two months time guess work and statements by political bigwigs, reports based on assumptions by media a whispering campaign by public in city heart start pouring in which starts a shivering fit in Government circles. A decision without any public purpose is announced to acquire Bantony seemingly to put the storm at calm. I doubt if this will solve all the problems which Government is Imagining. May be it is a preparation for some Shadow boxing bout with adversaries and mischief mongers.

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