Indian scientists and Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) employees are rallying together to save a piece of the legacy of the man credited to be the father of the Indian nuclear programme, Dr Homi J Bhabha. Several have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking his intervention to stop the public auction scheduled for June 18, 2014, of the house in Mumbai’s tony Malabar Hill area where Bhabha lived. Others have offered part of their own salaries to retain the house.
Bharat Ratna Prof C N R Rao, who has been a science advisor to several PMs, met Modi earlier this month. “The house is legendary, steeped in the scientific history of India. It has to be saved at any cost. It should be declared a national heritage property and a national memorial,” Rao told The Indian Express.
Located on a 1,000 sq m plot, the four-floor ancestral house was named ‘Mehrangir’ by Bhabha to honour the memory of his mother Meherbai and father Jehangir. It was given by Bhabha’s brother, artist Jamshed J Bhabha, to the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) in his will.
As per a legal notice put out in newspapers by the NCPA on March 7, it is auctioning Mehrangir for a reserve price of Rs 257 crore.
The one lakh members of the DAE’s employee unions and staff associations have passed a formal resolution saying that they were willing to contribute a part of their salary to try to buy the house.
The matter was officially discussed at a recent meeting of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), said C N R Rao, who sees in the house encapsulation of “the history of a self-reliant and powerful India”. He subsequently made a presentation to Ratan Tata too for his help, Rao said.
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A PIL has also been filed by P M Worlikar, president of the Atomic Energy Workers and Staff Union, seeking a stay on the auction and declaration of the bungalow as a heritage structure. It is likely to come up for mention in front of the Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court on Monday.
Bhabha spent most of his productive working life, till his death in a plane crash in 1966, at the house. Its spacious study is believed to have been the place where he worked out India’s three-stage nuclear energy programme. India’s first PM Jawaharlal Nehru and the Queen of England were among the dignitaries hosted at the house by Bhabha.
As Bhabha died in 1966 in a plane crash over Mont Blac in Switzerland without leaving a will, the property passed on to his only remaining heir, Jamshed. The artist, who passed away in 2007, in turn willed that all his belongings could be auctioned by the NCPA. Jamshed had played a pivotal role in nurturing the NCPA as the cultural centre of Mumbai.
A workaholic, Bhabha was also a connoisseur of the arts and a painter himself. A few years ago, the scientist’s well-known art collection and all his memorabilia were auctioned.
Scientists cite that example too to press for intervention, and argue that a National Museum at the site could honour both science and the arts.
“We must go out of our way to save and preserve Bhabha’s house,” said Raghunath A Mashelkar, former director general of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), New Delhi, adding that Indian scientists have an “emotional link” to Bhabha. India’s main nuclear weapons laboratory, the Mumbai-based Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), is named after him.
Former AEC chairman Anil Kakodkar, who met Bhabha when he was a young engineer, said: “I feel deeply hurt, anguished and helpless that we are unable to save Bhabha’s home from near certain demolition.”