Interim protection sought for ashram


Iconic building: The bronze statue of Swami Vivekananda, one of India’s greatest religious and social philosophers, stands in front of the Vivekananda Ashram in Jalan Tun Sambanthan, Brickfields. The ashram was built to honour Vivekananda, who visited Malaya in 1893. — filepic

THE National Heritage Commission has applied for an interim protection order under Section 33 of the National Heritage Act 2005 to protect the century-old Vivekananda Ashram from any immediate threat while the department processes its application to gazette the iconic structure in Brickfields as a heritage building.

Heritage Commissioner Dr Zainah Ibrahim confirmed the move via text message, saying that the order had been served on the trustees of the ashram. She also said Kuala Lumpur mayor Datuk Seri Ahmad Phesal Talib had been notified of the move.

“Meanwhile, our application to gazette (Vivekananda Ashram) is now with the AG’s Chambers for its perusal,” she said.

An Interim Protection Order (IPO) is made under the Heritage Act to protect places or objects of heritage significance that are under immediate or imminent threat.

The IPO will be in force for a period of 90 days or may be extended by the Commissioner until the site is designated as a heritage site.

Meanwhile, Ahmad Phesal said he would reject the application for planning permission made by the Vivekananda Ashrama board of trustees as soon as the Government gazetted the site as a national heritage site.

“We will reject the application made by the landowner as soon as the site is gazetted,” said Ahmad Phesal.

“I know the Government is adamant in protecting the ashram, and once the Commission gazettes the site, we will reject the application,” he said.

When asked to comment on the large number of signatures collected from people opposing the redevelopment plans of the iconic building, Ahmad Phesal said, “People are very concerned about the ashram.

“We respect the community’s strong sentiments and emotions in wanting to preserve and conserve it. I appreciate their feedback and their participation in the objection process.”

He added that residents were encouraged to give feedback and suggestions when they do not agree with something that affects their city.

“I have always stressed that public engagement is crucial and the ashram’s board of trustees should have had a public dialogue with the community over the matter before they decided on developing the land. It was bad PR on their part,” Ahmad Phesal said.

The mayor said according to the law, Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) would still have to process the application from the developers and one of the conditions was to refer to Rule 5.

To-date, 107,000 signatures have been collected to oppose the redevelopment of the ashram. Save Vivekananda Ashramam Action Committee (SVAB) chairman G. Gunasegaran said as of Dec 16, 2014, about 76,000 people had signed both the online and hard- copy version of the petition.

“MIC has also garnered a further 31,000 signatures from the public,” he said during a press conference with MIC Youth chief C. Sivarraajh at MIC headquarters recently.

Gunasegaran hoped Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak would intervene and speed up the process of gazetting the ashram as a heritage site.

The group said they would submit the signatures to Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz and Najib.

He added that MIC Youth would continue to collect signatures on the ground.

The online petition, which can be found at www.saveashram.com, is also still open for signatures.

Meanwhile, in conjunction with Swami Vivekananda’s birth anniversary, which falls on Jan 12, a series of activities is being carried out by several NGOs to commemorate the event.

The FT and Selangor Vivekananda Margam Welfare Association is holding an exhibition on the life and teachings of the Hindu philosopher at the Kalamandapam Hall, Jalan Scott in Brickfields for three days, beginning Jan 12 until Jan 14, from 9.30am to 9.30pm.

There will also be a seminar for youths themed “Swami Vivekananda and his teachings” on Jan 11 at the same venue, from 9am to 1pm.

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