Himachal cabinet approves deal to acquire British-era castle

Shimla, Jan 4 (IANS) The Himachal Pradesh cabinet on Wednesday stamped a deal to acquire British-era Bantony Estate, a grand private castle decaying for many years here, for Rs 27.84 crore and convert it into a museum, an official said.

The decision to acquire the castle, which was once the summer palace of the erstwhile Maharaja of Sirmaur, was taken by the government on July 5, 2013.

The cabinet, presided over by Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, accepted the recommendation of a negotiation committee and approved the payment of Rs 27.84 crore to the owners, a government official, who was privy to the deal, told IANS.

The castle near Scandal Point on Shimla’s famous Ridge would be refurbished and a museum would be set up there. In addition to this, a recreational park with a restaurant would also be developed in the area, an official statement quoting the Chief Minister said.

He said it would be a great attraction for both the tourists and the locals.

Earlier, Bantony Estate was purchased by a London-based Indian businessman in 2011 to give way to an ultra-luxurious spa. The Bharatiya Janata Party then ruled the state.

The Congress, now the ruling party in the state, had alleged that top political functionaries in the government were involved in illegal transactions in connection with this property.

Like many buildings in Shimla, Bantony’s architectural style is somewhat eclectic — part mock-Tudor, part chalet and crowned with sloping roofs with mini-towers. The architect is said to be T.E.G. Cooper.

Before its construction in 1880, the place had a rickety cottage belonging to Captain A. Gordon and housing some army officers.

Since 1957, the building, now in an advanced state of decay, had been the headquarters of the state police. It was formally vacated this year after a court case.

The exotic cast-iron railing with coat-of-arms of Sirmaur state at every span of six feet – mostly vandalised – and the original gate outside the building, which were cast in the Nahan Foundry, were erected in 1902-03.

According to the municipal corporation of Shimla, due to inadequate repairs, lack of financial resources of the owners and limited understanding of heritage preservation, the building is in a dilapidated state.

The “Queen of Hills”, Simla, as the town was then called, was the summer capital of the British colonial rulers.

More than 60 years after the British left, this town still attracts their descendants who are eager to explore their roots.

–IANS

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