Decks cleared to develop Tataguni estate as museum

State set to take over properties of Devika Rani and Roerich

With the court ruling upholding the law to take over the movable and immovable properties belonging to Devika Rani and Svetoslav Roerich, all hurdles to develop the estate as an art gallery-cum-museum have been removed.

The efforts to take over the 468 acres and 33 guntas of Tataguni estate, besides the art works, artefacts and other belongings of the Roerich couple began in 1992 when Veerappa Moily was the chief minister. An ordinance was promulgated and was sent for the approval of the President of India. The Centre had no objection but suggested that a bill be introduced to develop the estate as an art gallery.

In 1996, the state passed the Roerich and Devika Rani Roerich Estate (Acquisition and Transfer) Act. Soon after the death of Svetoslav Roerich in 1993, some persons made false claims on property worth crores of rupees.

The claimants became more assertive once Devika, the widow of Roerich, died in 1994. She was the grandniece of Rabindranath Tagore and most colourful personality of Indian cinema. The couple had made Hotel Ashoka their home in the twilight of their lives and both died in Bangalore. As they had no legal heirs, they were depending on their pesonal assistants to handle money transactions.

Such dependence proved costly for the couple as well as to the rich legacy they had left behind. Mary Joyce Poonacha, the nurse and personal assistant of Devika Rani was accused of creating fake documents to swindle money from the ailing woman. In addition, a private firm KT Plantations too made claims over a part of the Tataguni estate on the grounds it had bought it. It is not just the grabing of the immovable property, even the invaluable paintings of Roerich, artefacts, jewellery and cash of the couple went into the hands of vested interests.

Roerich, who had made Bangalore his home for many decades, had owned 470.19 acres at BM Kaval in Kengeri hobli and Manavarth Kaval, Uttarahalli hobli. The government had sanctioned 100 acres of land which became part of the estate, in 1954 for the cultivation of linoleum (lavender trees). Roerich had specially brought the saplings from Mexico. The oil extracted from the seeds of the trees used to be exported. An estimated 12,000 varieties of trees including linoleum are still left in the estate, it is said.

The oil extraction plant, a house where the couple lived, the studio and some paintings are still at the estate. Some of the rarest paintings went ‘missing’ when the artist was alive. As many as 150 paintings of Roerich are displayed at Chitrakala Parishat. Once the government began asserting its rights over the property, Mary and KT Plantations questioned the acquisition in the HC.  

The high court had upheld the acquisition bill. Questioning this the KT Plantations had moved Supreme Court 15 years ago. Russia had requested India to preserve the leagacy left behind by the Roerichs. The government had been managing the estate. The Lake Development Authority has developed two lakes amidst the greenery.

H M Mujeeb Ahmad, chief executive officer of the Board said the first task for the government is now to fence the property and later develop it as a cultural and art centre where artists across the globe can come and work. About eight years ago, the government had drawn a plan of Rs 140 crore to develop the place, which is just 18 km away from Bangalore city, he added.

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