A section of planters in the Hills, associated with the Darjeeling Club, popularly known as the Planters’ Club, want the ‘past glory’ of the historic club brought back.
They have said that they do not want to sub-lease the 65 percent share of the land to a developer in lieu of all expenses incurred for demolition and reconstruction of the ‘dilapidated’ buildings. Intellectuals, including some personalities associated with both the tea and tourism sectors, also claimed that the glory of the club with its historical past itself is enough to recognise it as a heritage property.
The land, measuring 1.99 acres, was “taken on lease” from the then Cooch Behar king. “We need to bring back its past glory,” said a planter, who is a member of the Club for over 30 years now.
The controversy over the property’s heritage status came to the fore after the secretary of the Club, Maj (Retd) JS Rana, claimed that the Club had not been declared a heritage building by any Heritage Commission in the past.
He also goes on to argue that permission for its demolition is not necessary because of this very fact. “In 2011, we had recommended that the state Heritage Commission declare Darjeeling Club, popularly known as Planters’ Club, as a heritage property.
We had submitted a report on the Planters’ Club to the then chairman of the Heritage Commission, eminent historian Prof Barun Dey. But after change of guard in West Bengal, nothing has been done. There was no member of the Commission from north Bengal to recommend such status for the Planters’ Club,” a former member of the West Bengal Heritage Commission, Dr Ananda Gopal Ghosh, a former teacher of the History department in the University of North Bengal, said.
“Records show that the Maharaja of Cooch Behar leased out land for setting up the Club there. We don’t know how Club authorities claimed the land was bought from the Maharaja. Our recommendations were based on history and culture of the then period since 1868, and the colonial structure of that building. Such plot of land cannot be handed over to a private developer. As per the West Bengal Heritage Commission Act, the administrative head of a district, the District Magistrate, will keep monitoring the heritage properties in their respective districts,” Dr Ghosh said.
Notably, sources said that by showcasing the ‘dilapidated’ condition of the building after the earthquake on 18 September 2011, and based on a report prepared by Darjeeling Municipality engineers, some club members took a decision to hand it over to an approved developer for rebuilding the staff quarters on some terms and conditions.
Sources said the committee of the Club held a meeting on 7 December 2013 to call for an Extra Ordinary General Meeting (EOGM) of the members of the Club on 27 January 2014 to transact a “Special Business.”
However, the EOGM could not be held due to a lack of quorum, it is learnt. As per Section 50 of the Club’s Article of Association, the ‘adjourned EOGM’ was held on 3 February 2014 to transact the “Special Business.”
Notably, the Club committee members and the developer in question, M/S CB & Associates, signed an agreement on 10 October, 2015. Significantly, the developer had proposed on 13 November 2019 that the ‘Notarised Lease Deed’ be converted into a ‘Development Agreement,’ through which 65 percent land of the Club would be handed over to M/S CB & Associates.