By N.K.A. Ballal, Retd. Sr. Vice-President, ITDC
When ITDC handed over the property of Lalitha Mahal Palace Hotel back to the State Government at the book value after running it successfully for a decade or more, there was a tacit understanding that the said property would be run temporarily for some time and thereafter it will be handed over to a private hotelier through a tendering process.
The State Government, in its wisdom, handed over the property to Jungle Lodges and Resorts to manage the show. It was meant to be a strictly temporary arrangement till a new lessor was found by a tendering process. Years have passed by, Jungle Lodges have found a golden goose giving profits year by year and so are not putting any pressure on the Government to go ahead with the tendering process.
The heritage hotel is being run by temporary/ contract staff and only 13 to 15 regular staff belong to the mother organisation, that is the Jungle Lodges. In the event of any big party or conference, they get the staff from other lodges, manage the show and go back. Imagine a heritage grand hotel of international standard being run with contract labour?
Trainees running around in chappals and this top-notch hotel has in effect become a State Guest House! Result: Slow death of the property. One of my friends had recently gone to the hotel and had taken some photographs of public areas (see pic).
We now have a Mysurean at the helm of affairs in Vidhana Soudha. I do not know if he is interested to make this hotel a top-notch heritage property again — to match the Falaknuma Palace at Hyderabad.
Take it from me, over the years if this building is not handed over to some top heritage group of hotels, this property will join the ranks of Lansdowne and Devaraja Market buildings in city centre or see the fate of Jayalakshmi Vilas Mansion in Manasagangothri campus.
A portion of the Mansion’s ceiling had caved-in at two places due to constant leakage caused by incessant rains and a weak structure in Nov. 2021 and the structure lies in shambles due to apathy and fund crunch.
Jayalakshmi Vilas Mansion, housing some of the finest priceless artefacts, is lying in a dilapidated state beyond one’s imagination. Though the caved-in ceiling has been temporarily covered, the damage is huge.
The heritage structure was handed over to University of Mysore (UoM) after philanthropist and Infosys Foundation Chairperson Sudha Murty spent Rs. 1.17 crore to renovate the Mansion in 2001.
The collapse has occurred in a section of the building that houses the University’s Folklore Museum and the Mansion now faces monumental apathy.
The condition of the Mansion had drawn the attention of Heritage Expert Committee that had written a letter to the then Vice-Chancellor of UoM Prof. G. Hemantha Kumar seeking immediate repairs and restoration of the building. The Government-appointed Committee said that the way the heritage structure is maintained is a sad reflection on the state of affairs in the century-old University.
The Government of Karnataka or for that matter Jungle Lodges do not have the funds or expertise to manage a Lalitha Mahal Hotel. It requires at least Rs. 50 crore to Rs.70 crore to bring it back to its original splendour with the terrace gardens, fountains etc., apart from the Maharaja and Maharani suites which require full refurbishment.
I do hope and pray that better sense prevails and some one in power takes a fast decision in this matter.
My another worry is that the Government does not water down the conditions of the tender to allow some fly-by-night operators to take over the Palace Hotel property. Mysuru requires this “jewel.”