British-era Shimla building to be museum

Shimla: The Himachal Pradesh government will acquire Bantony Estate, a grand private heritage building decaying for many years in the erstwhile summer capital of the British Raj, and convert it into a museum, an official said Sunday.

A notification to acquire Bantony Estate near Scandal Point on Shimla`s famous Ridge, a heritage zone in the heart of the town, was issued by the government Saturday, an official of the state language, art and culture department told IANS.

The language department is set to convert the castle into a public museum.

The state cabinet, headed by Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, decided July 5 to acquire the castle, which was once the summer palace of the erstwhile Maharaja of Sirmaur. The coat-of-arms of the maharaja can still be seen in the cast-iron railing in front of the house.

The government has initiated the property acquisition process under Section 4 in the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, the official said.

During the tenure of the previous BJP government, a London-based Indian businessman had tried to purchase the property for an ultra-luxurious spa.

Vishwanath Sood, 72, one of the owners of the building, said the property was worth crores.

"If the government is keen on acquiring it, it should pay us the prevalent market rate. It it goes ahead with the acquisition as per law, I have no problem. Otherwise, I have the right to challenge it," he said.

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. Architect T.E.G. Cooper is said to have designed it.

Before its construction in 1880, the place had a rickety cottage belonging to Captain A. Gordon, which housed army officers.

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, which were cast in the Nahan Foundry, were erected in 1902-03.

According to the municipal corporation of Shimla, due to inadequate repairs, lack of financial resources of the owners and limited understanding of heritage preservation, the building is in a dilapidated state.