'Let Vivekananda Ashram's issue be a lesson to all local authorities', says Lam Thye [NSTTV]

KUALA LUMPUR: The recent controversy surrounding the historic Vivekananda Ashrama in Brickfields should serve as a lesson to all local authorities regarding the preservation of heritage buildings, said social activist Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye.

Lee, who is Alliance for Safe Community chairman, said preserving heritage sites and buildings was everyone's responsibility, including the government.

"While we all welcome (Federal Territories) Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa's assurance that the building is protected, it should not have arisen in the first place.

"It is not a matter of nostalgia or sentimentality, but a profound commitment to respecting values, while safeguarding the present and inspiring the future," he told the New Straits Times.

He said heritage buildings played a crucial role in tourism and economic growth, as well as job creations.

Even if an area is converted into a commercial zone, buildings such as the ashram should never be touched, he said.

"Let the issue of Vivekananda Ashram be a lesson to all local authorities.

"When a building has been certified or declared as heritage under the National Heritage Act, it must be protected and preserved," he said.

Lee said there were instances where buildings with heritage values were demolished to make way for development as they were not protected under the law.

"One such example was Bok House, a mansion on Jalan Ampang built in 1929, but which was torn down 77 years later.

"It sparked public outcry, but it was too late as at the time, we didn't have necessary strong legislation to protect the building."

The 120-year-old Vivekananda Ashram has faced two threats of development since 2004.

It was reported that the land on which the building sits has been earmarked as a major commercial zone with a high plot ratio in the draft Kuala Lumpur Local Plan 2040, raising doubts about its heritage status.

Dr Zaliha, in allaying public concern over the building's fate, has given her assurance that measures were in place to safeguard the iconic ashram that was gazetted as a National Heritage Building and placed under Category 1 Heritage Building list in the draft local plan.

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