The board of directors of the century-old Vivekananda Ashram in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur has filed a judicial review to quash the National Heritage Department decision to declare it a historical site.
In the application, the directors said the department’s decision to gazette the place under the Heritage Act 2005 was vague and lacked in particulars.
Further, they said the board, registered as a public limited company, received public donations to maintain its premises and fund its activities.
They added however that in recent years, such donations were not forthcoming and the public had missed the point that it was a charitable institution which supported four schools in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya.
“In one of its annual general meetings, it was resolved that the back portion of the property would be developed to generate income,” they said.
This means Vivekananda’s statue and the facade will remain untouched.
The directors, who are the applicants, filed the case at the Kuala Lumpur High Court registry last month.
They named the department, its commissioner Dr Zainah Ibrahim, the Ministry of Tourism and Culture and its minister as respondents.
Today, a proceeding before High Court judge Datuk Asmabi Mohamad was held in chambers to obtain leave.
However, the judge adjourned the case to November 26 to allow senior federal counsel Mazlifah Ayob to reply an affidavit filed by the directors.
Datuk David Gurupatham and Eliza Stephanie Stephem represented the directors.
Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz last month said the ashram would be gazetted as a national heritage site after Putrajaya rejected appeals from the site owner.
Nazri said under Section 96 of the act, the minister’s decision was final and no further appeals would be entertained or could be made in court.
The government had earlier planned to gazette the 110-year-old building as a heritage site but the proposal was twice rejected by the ashram’s board.
The board had previously submitted a proposal to sell and redevelop the land into a 23-storey apartment tower.
However, due to objections from various parties and the public, City Hall put a temporary halt to the project.
Nazri said the building had important and significant cultural values, including the fact that it was proof that the Sri Lankan Jaffnas came to Malaysia and their first settlement was in Brickfields.
The building was also officiated by the first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman in 1958. Historical records show the place was a centre for mathematics and also a community gathering point.
In the early 1990s, various dance and vocal classes, yoga lessons and other spiritual activities were held at the ashram.