Ending more than 12-year old uncertainty over the century-old ‘Bantony castle’ – a heritage property located next to the Mall Road, the Himachal Pradesh cabinet Wednesday cleared a proposal to acquire 19,000 square metre estate for setting-up a world-class city museum and a cultural centre in the town. The government will pay Rs 27.84 crore to the owners of the estate for acquisition of the entire property, including a two-storey built-in building of archeological importance that earlier used to house the state police headquarters.
Watch What Else Is Making News
The move came immediately after the cabinet decision to refurbish, conserve and suitably renovate the existing buildings to retain its original glory. The rest of the property will be developed into a recreational park with a restaurant , besides the city muumuu and cultural center after engaging a leading consultant.
The cabinet, presided over by Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, also accepted the recommendations of a negotiation committee headed by Pankaj Rai, Commissioner, Municipal Corporation (Shimla), which was set-up by the department of Language Art and Culture (LAC) to finalise the payments for the owners of the castle.
The total amount asked by the owners (more than a dozen) was Rs 37 crores but it was brought down to Rs 27.84 crores during negotations after the owners opposed the part-acquisition of the land and estate.
Even before, setting-up of a negotations committee, the LAC department had earlier ordered a social impact assessment of the ‘Bantony castle’ by a committee headed by Madhu Bala Sharma, Director Himachal Institute of Public Administration.
The actual cost of the property was assessed at Rs 10.6 crore after adding 12 per cent annual charges – ‘socialism’, cost of the existing dilapidated building, the total value was estimated at Rs 30 crore.
Interestingly, during the BJP regime the owners had negotiated a deal for Rs 45 crores with an NRI who had moved a proposal to the tourism department to allow setting-up a luxury spa resort in the ‘heritage zone’.
This had created a wide-spread opposition compelling the government to back-track the deal.
The proposed cultural complex -on the lines of ‘Delhi Haat’ will showcase historical, geological, archaeological, archival, literary, cultural and artistic and biodiversity treasure of Himachal Pradesh, making it as hub of tourism activity, besides conservation and preservation of heritage properties for posterity.
Spread over an area of 19,436 sq meter, the decaying Bantony Estate, comprises two grand private heritage buildings, namely Bantony Castle and Bantony Cottage. Once the summer palace of the erstwhile Maharaja of Sirmaur, Sir Amar Prakash Bahadur lent this estate as a gesture to show his thorough faithfulness to the cause of British Empire. The estate was used for military works office until the end of wars.