September 23, 2014 12:32:31 am
While Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in June this year urging for the bungalow of Dr Homi Jehangir Bhabha to be preserved as a national monument or a heritage structure, it now emerges that that the proposal to declare it a protected heritage structure under the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) was first sent to Chavan as early as 2011.
The DAE’s letter in 2011 had sought the state government’s intervention to prevent the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) from selling off the bungalow.
Sources said a routine response was then sent to the DAE from the state government, stating that the matter had been forwarded to the state’s Cultural Affairs Department for examination. The matter has since then remained pending with the state government, headed by Chavan, who incidentally was also Union Minister of State for Science and Technology as well as Minister of State at the Prime Minister’s Office prior to becoming the CM. The DAE even sent a reminder to the chief minister in 2014.
Towards the end of 2011, NCPA auctioned the contents of the house, from silverware, coins, carpets, furniture and works from the Bhabhas’ enviable art collection, including paintings by Homi Bhabha himself. The Malabar Hill bungalow was subsequently sold by the NCPA for Rs 372 crore on June 18, 2014.
On June 23, the DAE told the Bombay High Court that it had sought the state government’s intervention to declare Meherangir a “protected monument”. The developments came as part of a public interest litigation (PIL), filed by two employees of BARC and TIFR, on June 13 in the High Court, seeking immediate steps to list the bungalow as a heritage structure.
Meanwhile, the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee (MHCC) also received a representation from DAE on May 6 this year, requesting it to declare the bungalow as a heritage property. Among other points, the DAE said it wanted to “put the house as a memorial as was done with the ancestral house of Swami Vivekanad in Kolkata”.
“The committee also observed from the submitted documents that the secretary, DAE, had written to the CM in 2011 with a request to declare the ‘Meherangir’ as a national heritage under the DAE or an independent institution while seeking his intervention to restrain NCPA from disposing of the bungalow. The CM then forwarded the matter to the Cultural Affairs Department for examination. A reminder was also submitted to the CM in 2014 by DAE,” reveal minutes of MHCC’s meeting dated June 7, July 19, August 5 and August 13, which have been accessed by The Indian Express.
Initially, MHCC decided that since the proposal was being handled by the state’s Cultural Affairs Department, the committee had no role in the matter and the state “may take appropriate decision whether to notify the bungalow as a state protected monument”. A letter dated July 8 was, however, sent from the state Urban Development Department, requesting MHCC, as an expert committee, to submit its recommendations for inclusion of the bungalow in the heritage list. A sub-committee was then formed by MHCC.
The minutes of the meeting held on August 5 reveal that the sub-committee’s draft report was considered. “The committee was of the opinion that listing Meherangir as a heritage structure would not serve to perpetuate the memory of Bhabha. The conclusion of the report was not to recommend listing Meherangir as a heritage structure,” say the minutes. Thereafter, in the August 13 meeting, MHCC concluded that the bungalow did not warrant listing as a heritage structure on account of its association with Bhabha. The state last week submitted an affidavit to the High Court, citing the committee’s decision.
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