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10 APRIL 2024

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Ashram trustees defend their development plan

The board of trustees for the iconic landmark Vivekananda Ashram in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur has defended its decision to develop the land behind the building.
The board members said that the planned 23-storey condominium will not affect the historic landmark and instead will provide a sustainable income to maintain the four Tamil schools under the ashram.
This is because they plan to turn the schools into trust schools to improve the quality of education for the students.
“Part of the plan is to convert the four schools we have into trust schools.
“This will prepare the students for a much better approach to life once they leave school,” committee member of the board Sri Skanda Rajah said in a press conference after the board’s 95th annual general meeting at the ashram today.
Around RM4 to RM5 million a year is needed to maintain the programmes and activities at these schools once they have been transformed into trust schools, he explained.
That is why they need a sustainable income, he said, which is what they will achieve through the land development.
They used to receive around RM500,000 to RM1 million in donations yearly, he added, but unfortunately, donations have dwindled to nearly nothing recently.
“There’s no point we just get a one-time donation of RM5 million. We need RM5 million per year in perpetuity for the schools,” he said when told that the crowd had promised to chip in and raise funds to maintain the schools.
‘Ashram won’t be damaged’
On concerns that the construction of the condominium behind the Vivekananda Ashram might damage the old building, several of the committee members dismissed the notion.
Experts such as the engineers and architects will make sure the construction of the condominium does not affect the building, they said.
“The current technology allows for that,” secretary to the board S Pasupathi said.
Sri Skanda (photo) added that they welcome any suggestions from the community on alternative ways to create a sustainable income to maintain the schools.
However, managing director of Brickfields Asia College (BAC) Raja Singham said he has tried to contact the board many times in order to discuss ways to raise funds but had been rebuffed every time.
He said he had even tried to apply to become a committee member of the board of trustees, to no avail.
“I have been to the schools and they don’t need RM5 million. They need around RM300,000 to RM400,000, which I’m sure the Indian community can easily raise,” he said when met by reporters.
Ruckus at protest
Earlier, there had been a protest and candlelight vigil at the Vivekananda Ashram, with about 100 protesters in attendance.
A minor ruckus broke out when a small group of the protesters attempted to enter the building.
Denied entry, they began shouting and banging on the doors, demanding to be let in.
When they were finally allowed in, Sri Skanda agreed to go outside to speak with the crowd.
However, Penang Deputy Chief Minister II P Ramasamy, who had been giving a speech to the rest of the crowd outside, refused to listen to Sri Skanda and stormed off.
“We don’t want to talk. Call the case out of court, then we will talk.
“I’m walking out,” he declared before leaving.
When met by reporters outside the ashram later, Ramasamy said the protesters just want the iconic landmark to be preserved and for the trustees to withdraw their appeal from court.
“If you can’t protect this ashram, which is 110 years old, in the interest of the Indian community then I think you shouldn’t be the trustees here.
“You (should) all tender your resignation because I consider you a traitor to the Indian community,” he said.
The board of trustees had previously applied for a judicial review and appealed against the National Heritage Department’s decision to gazette the whole site as a heritage site.
They wanted the Vivekananda Ashram building to remain a heritage site, but said they see no point in the area surrounding it to be gazetted as such as well.
As the surrounding area had also been gazetted as a heritage site, the trustees are unable to proceed with their plans to develop the land behind the building.
They had also expressed a plan to convert part of the ashram building into a museum. -Mkini

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