24th September was the opening of the hearing regarding an inquiry into alleged breach of planning rules by the management of Ambedkar House in London (AHL). I was at the inquiry on the first day of hearing and intending to be there on the next hearing date, 11th October too. I am reporting events, in the public interest, however I see them.
Since the purchase of Ambedkar House by the Government of Maharashtra, it has always been referred to as Ambedkar Memorial/Museum by its management team, although it did not have the official museum status. It had, and still has, residential status. This indicates that the government of Maharashtra was ill advised by the assigned advisors. After complaints by local residents, the council issued an enforcement notice. AHL management should have immediately stopped referring to it as Ambedkar Memorial, instead an appeal was made against an earlier refusal to grant it museum status.
At the hearing, Mr. Satpal Muman, as third witness and Secretary of Ambedkar International Mission London, gave written evidence requesting the council to grant the required permission for AHL to remain open to public and be granted museum status. This request was endorsed by multiple organisations and communities including the Sikh Federation and Sikh Missionary Society.
Separate (similar) letters were also sent to Robert Jenrick, the SECRETARY OF STATE FOR HOUSING and SECRETARY FOR COMMONWEALTH sometime back requesting intervention. The same letters were then copied to the High Commissioner of India.
There were several other supporting organisations too, but some were unable to send their endorsements on time. If required, they too could be mentioned on 11th October at the next hearing.
Mr. Muman, representing these communities and speaking in public interest, made some powerful points backed with historical facts about Dr Ambedkar’s contributions and relevance to the world at large, which I hope will significantly affect the direction of the inquiry in our favour.
At the end of the first day of enquiry, Dr William Gould, the academic witness, congratulated Mr. Muman and thanked him for highlighting and filling gaps when council witnesses were cross examined and said Ambedkar was only an economist and not a social revolutionary as depicted on blue Plaque.
At the inquiry, it was revealed that the Blue Plaque displayed in front of the building near the entrance did not have English heritage sanction. Nor is the place a listed building. Mr. Muman says, “Up until recently our enquiries found that Indian government officials informed us that no other organisation including FABO responded to Indian government official’s call for help. As there was no help forthcoming from anyone, we stepped in to help but it did not get us far as help sought was specific but we were never told by the High commission official that other ‘types’ of witnesses could also be put forward and kept impressing that a Lord, an MP an academic ONLY was required. We put forward a Lord, MP declined (as it was not just an appeal but an inquiry). We also forwarded the name of an academic from LSE which was suddenly blocked to my consternation.”
The inquiry will continue 11th October. The planning inspectorate will pass on his recommendation to the Secretary of state. This is a unique case regarding ‘decision to grant planning permission’ in UK history, such that the UK Secretary of State for Housing,
Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick will be the one making the final decision instead of the council planning office.
Before the inquiry and raising his voice on behalf of the public, Mr. Muman asked Mr. Jenrick for intervention via email. “Public interest will be taken in consideration”, says the cabinet minister.
Note that third party witnesses should not be dismissed out of hand as they bring crucial input and perspective to the main witnesses. That is the reason why such witnesses are invited to speak otherwise whole exercise is waste of time. British justice system should be commended for this. So I request concerned individuals and organisations to bombard letters individually to Mr. Jenrick as that will concentrate his mind more to give the correct decision otherwise reliance will be placed on bilateral relations to do the job.
Due to overwhelming requests, after the second sitting, I will try to update you with first hand account which will not affect the inquiry. Media reports can be misleading and sometimes, very conveniently, miss out on the really important bits
~Shekhar Bodhakar (AHL Forum)