What is The Vivekananda Ashrama, Kuala Lumpur (TVAKL)?
The Vivekananda Ashrama, Kuala Lumpur is an institution started by the Jaffna (Sri Lankan) Tamil immigrants in 1904 in honour of Swami Vivekananda. The building, constructed in 1908, is dedicated to his work in providing education and spiritual development for the youth and community.
TVAKL is on Jalan Tun Sambathan in Brickfields, and the land currently holds the Ashrama building, a hostel and a partially constructed Sangeetha Abivirithi Sabha auditorium (it was never fully completed since the 70’s due to financial constraints). There is also a bronze statue of Swami Vivekananda.
Is it true that the Ashrama will be torn down for redevelopment?
No. The Ashrama will not be torn down, but TVAKL’s board of trustees has approved the decision to develop 0.4 hectors of the land. The land will be developed by F3 Capital Sdn Bhd, which plans to build a 23-storey service apartment building. The trustees emphasise that the Ashrama building and the statue will remain in tact.
According to the Malay Mail Online, the trustees have tried to sell the land twice before – approximately 25 years and 10 years ago – but the sale wasn’t carried out because of public protests. Figures of the current deal have not been disclosed.
What’s the public response?
Although the land is privately owned, many members of the public would like to see the building preserved as a piece of heritage in the local community. There has been a petition and a Facebook page set up to save the site from redevelopment. One man has to offered to pledge RM500,000 to save the Ashrama. Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz also stated that the land should be declared a national heritage site.
Why not turn it into a heritage site?
TVAKL also owns and manages three Tamil schools and one national secondary school. TVAKL’s chairman Tan Sri Dr. K. Ampikaipakan has said that the sale of the land would allow TVAKL to better serve the community and particularly these schools. In a statement released to the press, TVAKL has said: “It is evident that the need to constantly raise funds on an ad hoc basis does not offer a sustainable solution or allow for long-term planning.”
What will happen to the TVAKL land and building if the development goes ahead?
Two separate deeds would be drawn up, in order to protect the ownership of the Ashrama building and the statue. Tan Sri Dr. K Ampikaipakan said in an interview with BFM: “We’ll retain this building in its original form and build above and around it, and to (raise) sufficient money to run four schools and do all the charity that we do.”
A sizable portion of the land would also be surrendered to City Hall for any future road-widening projects.
Can the building gazetted as a National Heritage Site?
Section 67 (1) of the National Heritage Act 2005 states that the Minister in charge of heritage may declare any heritage site/object as a national heritage. However, the Minister of Tourism and Culture has not yet done so, instead stating that the board of trustees rejected the Heritage Department’s offer to gazette the main building as a heritage site in 2008. Meanwhile, the Federal Territories Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor has said that the building cannot be gazetted because it is private land.
It is believed that in the Draft KL 2020 plan, the Ashrama is identified as a Category 2 Heritage Site. However, this draft has not been gazetted.
What happens when a building becomes a National Heritage Site?
The Commissioner of Heritage takes custody of the building on behalf of the federal government, and is responsible for its “safekeeping and safeguarding”. The Commissioner may withhold permission for the sale or development of the property.
Tan Sri Dr. K Amipikaipakan has said that classifying the building as a heritage site will bring the commercial value of it down to zero. He also stated that the Heritage Department would not have enough money to maintain the building. This has been disputed by the National Heritage Department’s Commissioner, Dr Zainah Ibrahim, who stated that as a heritage site, the Ashrama could generate income from entrance fees.
How will the future of the TVAKL be decided?
If the building is not classified as a heritage site, then the usual process will follow, whereby DBKL holds a hearing (currently set to the end of this month) that members of the public can attend. DBKL will then decide whether the sale will go ahead.
Currently, the Ashrama is not in a state that’s fit for public use. However, the building is certainly a historical icon of the community. With the heritage issue at a stalemate, the proposed development will divide those who believe it will bring more benefits to the community, and those who oppose the development of the land for commercial purposes.
Disclosure: A founder member of Poskod.MY’s holding company, PopDigital, has advised TVAKL in a voluntary capacity.