VIVEKANANDA Ashram’s board of trustees had rejected gazetting it a heritage site in 2008 after the application was made by the National Heritage Department, said Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz (pic).
Stating that the building was a national heritage and a Malaysian pride, he added that the application was made by the department because it appreciated its historical significance and its importance to the Indian community.
Nazri said the National Heritage Department should not be blamed for not gazetting the building.
“They did try (to gazette it) but it was a pity that the trustees were not in favour of it,” he told StarMetro.
Nazri, however, said he would advise the board of trustees, headed by chairman Tan Sri Dr K. Ampikaipakan, to consider conserving the building by applying to gazette it a heritage site.
When told it was within the power of the Kuala Lumpur mayor to rezone the building’s heritage status from category 2 to 1 before enabling the building to be gazetted, Nazri said it was “entirely up to the mayor.”
“Malaysia is a young country and our history goes back about 500 years.
“So naturally, emphasis must be given to old buildings in the country; and if the building is 100 years old, of course we want to preserve it.
“We are not as old as China or India, with history dating back thousands of years, so for us 100-year-old buildings like the Vivekananda Ashram are priceless and must be protected,” he said.
In a statement, the National Heritage Department confirmed that it had taken steps to gazette the Vivekananda Ashram but the owner had not consented to it, which meant that it was not covered by the National Heritage Act 2005.
The statement also said the department would carry out further studies to determine an appropriate action. According to the department, the local authority must give planning permission before any development is carried out and, in the case of heritage buildings, the local authority must consult the department before approving the planning permission.
It was reported earlier that former Gerakan Youth Sports and Culture vice-president S. Paranjothy had questioned why the department had failed to gazette the building in 2008 despite applying for it.
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 department published in 2008 and 2009, of its intention to designate the site as a heritage site.
He had continued to follow up with the department for several years until he was informed that someone had objected to the building being designated a heritage site.
Paranjothy had said no objection hearing was carried out and the community was not informed on the findings.
On Oct 16, StarMetro reported that the century-old Vivekananda Ashram in Jalan Tun Sambanthan, Brickfields, had been earmarked for a major redevelopment that would see a 23-storey residential tower with 264 units and an eight-storey car park built at the site.
Although the ashram’s board of trustees had maintained that the iconic structure together with the bronze statue of Swami Vivekananda, one of India’s religious and social philosophers, would be retained to preserve its symbolic value, the plans were met with much resistance from the public.
To date, about 100 NGOs had protested against the development with some parties even wanting to help pay for the upkeep of the building.
Brickfields Asia College owner and philanthropist Raja Singham even pledged to contribute RM500,000 and to help fund the four schools under the trust on condition that the development plans are scrapped.
The NGOs also planned a peaceful gathering in front of the ashram on Nov 9 to collect 100,000 signatures to help save the building.
The statue and the ashram were built by the Jaffna (Sri Lankan) Tamil immigrants in 1904 in honour of Swami Vivekananda, who visited Malaya in 1893.
Vivekananda was the chief disciple of the 19th century Indian mystic Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and the founder of the Ramakrishna Mission, which today has established a following throughout the world.