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Will Gandhi Bhawan in Kolkata go on the block

Kolkata: Haidari Manzil better known as Gandhi Bhawan in Beliaghata here, where Mahatma Gandhi fasted during the communal riots in 1947 might go under the hammer if a bank to which the property is mortgaged for over 50 years has its way.

The plot which includes the Gandhi Maidan and adjoining Gandhi Bhawan was mortgaged by the then owner Samarendra Kumar Ghosh to the United Bank of India (UBI) half a century ago.

The loan remained unpaid even after his death and UBI attached the maidan, for which the loan was taken. The bank placed newspaper advertisements last December inviting bidders for the plot.

UBI`s Chief Manager (Communication) Neeraj Verma when contacted declined comment on the bank`s decision. The West Bengal Heritage Commission and the Kolkata Municipal Corporation have, however, decided to oppose the auction. "I have written to the UBI chairman requesting him not to sell the property. Since Gandhi Bhawan is where the Father of the Nation fasted for communal harmony, we should treasure it rather than sell it off," the state heritage body`s chairman Shuvaprasanna Bhattacharya told PTI.

In his letter written on Tuesday, Bhattacharya has urged the bank that Gandhi Bhawan, which also houses a small museum, should be restored and efforts taken to conserve it as it was listed as a Grade-A heritage building by the Commission.

Bhattacharya suggested that Gandhi Bhawan should be dedicated to the nation as part of the bank`s Corporate Social Responsibility. "It`s a national bank and should behave responsibly," he said stating that the state heritage body was ready to contribute to preserve the building.

Kolkata Mayor Sovan Chatterjee also said that steps were being taken to halt the auction. "I don`t know how they can sell a heritage building. Although we have not got any appeal to stop the auction, we will take appropriate action as and when required," Chatterjee said.

Eminent historian Barun De demanded that the government acquire the property to protect its heritage value. Delhi-based Gandhian Ramchander Rahi, also the secretary of Gandhi Smarak Nidhi, said, "It is a matter of deep regret and shame that property which should be a national heritage is being commercialised."

Indian National Trust For Art and Cultural Heritage state convenor G M Kapur, however, said that legally, a heritage property could be sold as long as it did not interfere with its heritage value.

Gandhi fasted on August 15, 1947 to observe the day India gained Independence and spent his time in prayer and spinning at the house. He also went on a three-day fast there from September 1, 1947 for peace and communal harmony following riots after partition.

Haideri Manzil was originally owned, it is said, by a member of the Dawoodi Bohra community, who came from Surat in the 19th century and settled down in Bengal to do business. It was later renamed Gandhi Bhawan.

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