Will British era building soon be Shimla spa?
Shimla: Yet another piece of this erstwhile Indian summer capital`s colonial past is in danger of being lost, with a prime British era property expected to give way to an ultra-luxurious spa.
Officials of the Tourism Department told reporters that London-based businessman Ranjay Trehan has moved a case for seeking a no-objection certificate under Section 118 of the Himachal Pradesh Tenancy and Land Reforms Act to convert the Bantony Estate near Scandal Point to a spa.
He has also sought permission from the Shimla Municipal Corporation in this regard.
Municipal corporation commissioner A.N. Sharma told reporters that a request has been received. "Since the building lies in the town`s heritage zone, giving permission to raise a new structure on the existing one is not possible at all," he added.
Bantony, located in the heart of the town, was the summer palace of the erstwhile Maharaja of Sirmaur, whose coat-of-arms can still be seen in the cast-iron railings in front of the house.
EJ Buck`s 1904 book "Simla Past & Present" notes that "the Maharaja always comes up to Simla for several weeks during the season, and is by no means the least enlightened of the Chiefs of India."
It is this very Bantony Estate that former five-time chief minister and Congress leader Virbhadra Singh has cited as one that top functionaries of the state`s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government was trying to grab.
Without naming anybody, Union Minister of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Virbhadra Singh said here in April that the building has been purchased by a private party.
"The previous Congress regime was trying to use the heritage property for public purposes. Now, a private party has taken control over it. One day you will find it will be deliberately put on fire (to build a new structure there)," the minister alleged.
State Congress spokesperson Kuldeep Pathania said the party would not allow the government to change land use laws in the heritage zone of Shimla.
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal Tuesday directed the principal secretary, urban development, to initiate the procedure for acquisition of Bantony Estate and land in the heritage zone of Shimla.
Like many buildings in Shimla, Bantony`s architectural style is somewhat eclectic-part mock-Tudor, part chalet and crowned with sloping roofs with mini-towers. The architect is said to be T.E.G. Cooper.
The exotic cast-iron railing with coat-of-arms of Sirmaur state at every span of six feet - mostly vandalised - and the original gate outside the building built in Nahan Foundry, were erected in 1902-03.
Before its construction in 1880, the place had a rickety cottage belonging to Capt A. Gordon and housing some army officers.
Since 1957 the building, now in an advanced state of decay, had been the headquarters of state police. It was formally vacated this year after a court case.
According to the municipal corporation, due to inadequate repairs, lack of financial resources of the owners and limited understanding of heritage preservation, the building is in a dilapidated state.
The corporation warns that if preventive measures are not taken to preserve it, Bantony Estate would soon be just a name in the history books.