THE National Heritage Department had applied to gazette the century-old Vivekananda Ashram in 2008 as a heritage site under the National Heritage Act 2005, claims former Gerakan Youth Sports and Culture vice-president S. Paranjothy.
Paranjothy, who was part of a pro-tem committee set up in 2004 to save the iconic building from being demolished, produced notices from the Heritage Department published in 2008 and 2009, of its intention to designate the site as a Heritage Site.
“These notices were issued pursuant to Section 27(2) (a) of the National Heritage Act 2005,” said Paranjothy.
“When we successfully stopped the land from being sold in 2004, we lobbied for the building to be gazetted as a heritage site,” he said.
“I continued to follow up with the Heritage Department for several years until one day, the officers told me that someone had objected to the building being designated as a heritage site,” he recalled.
He said no objection hearing was ever carried out and the community was never informed about the findings.
Paranjothy questioned the sudden about-turn by the Heritage Department in not gazetting the site.
“They have a duty to clarify to the public why the Vivekananda Ashram has no heritage value today when they were the ones who applied to have it gazetted in the past,” he said.
When contacted, a spokesman from the department said they were in the process of writing a response to the media over their stand on the issue and would release it as soon as they get the green light from the Tourism Ministry.
Meanwhile, the public has less than 10 days to submit their objections against the ashram’s redevelopment project to Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL). The deadline is Nov 11.
StarMetro had reported on Oct 16 of the Vivekananda Trustees’ intention to redevelop the historical landmark in Brickfields as the board had no funds to manage the building and four schools under its trust.
Following the exclusive report, a Facebook page called Save Vivekananda Ashramam Brickfields was set up to protest the redevelopment plans. The page had gained 10,000 likes. An online petition has also been launched at www.saveashram.com to urge the authorities to stop the development.
MIC Youth has also submitted a memorandum to Kuala Lumpur mayor Datuk Ahmad Phesal Talib, objecting the 23-storey residential tower development plan on the ashram site and appealing to the mayor to declare the ashram a heritage site.
Citing clauses from the Antiquities Act (1976), national MIC Youth secretary Arvind Krishnan said the iconic structure should have been gazetted as a heritage site.
“The Act clearly states that any building which is at least 100 years old is classified or gazetted by the Museum Department, for protection and preservation.
“Vivekananda Ashram was built in 1904. I am surprised that relevant bodies such as the Cultures, Arts and Tourism Ministry and DBKL have yet to include the ashram on the list of heritage sites in Malaysia.” said Krishnan at DBKL office in Jalan Raja Laut upon handing over the memorandum to DBKL City Planning Unit deputy director Ismail Mohd Yusof. Ismail said they would respond after reviewing the memorandum.
Krishnan said that he had also requested for a dialogue session between MIC Youth and DBKL to discuss the issue.
He urged the public to come forward with their objections and assured that MIC Youth would communicate their views to the ministry and Vivekananda’s board of trustees.
“The ashram is home to the very first Tamil school and kindergarten in Malaysia. It is an important cultural symbol for the Indian community.
This issue is beyond political boundaries, nor race and religion. We need to come together to safeguard our national heritage.
Hindu Rights Action Party (Hindraf), MIC Youth and five other Indian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have also formed an ad hoc committee to protest the new condominium project on the site.
Hindraf president P. Waythamoorthy said the party would submit a memorandum to Unesco today, seeking urgent intervention from them.
Citing Section 68 of the National Heritage Act 2005, Waythamoorthy explained that any person was allowed to nominate a site of cultural heritage to be declared as a National Heritage.
He said the committee would also submit an appeal to Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Aziz.
A. Muraly, national president of Tamilan Uthavum Karangkal which is one of the NGOs in the ad hoc committee, said he feared building the apartment tower would hurt the ashram’s fragile structure.
“I went to school at the ashram in 1977. Back then, we did not have a football field or a place to hold events. I remember being told that the old building did not have space or the strength to accommodate.
“It does not make sense for them to build such a huge complex on its grounds. I am afraid it could hurt the structure and foundation of the ashram.” he said.