THE 18TH century Gobindgarh Fort of great Sikh warrior Maharaja Ranjit Singh in Amritsar was opened to the public on Monday — the first time after 69 years of Independence. A “protected monument” according to a state government notification on March 2, this year, the fort is now a glitzy Mayanagri Theme Park.
Bollywood actor Deepa Sahi owns Mayanagri One Private Limited — the Mumbai-based firm responsible for developing the park. It was almost a decade ago that the then Union government led by Dr Manmohan Singh handed over the fort to the Punjab government for restoration and conservation.
“Bollywood actress Deepa Sahi, who worked in the film, Maya Memsaab, owns this company. Thus the name, Mayanagri Theme Park. Rs 50 crore (from the loan taken from Asian Development Bank under the project called Infrastructure Development Investment Programme For Tourism) has been spent till now on Gobindgarh project,” said Navjot Singh Randhawa, director, cultural affairs, archaeology and museums, Punjab. Around Rs 250 crore was the total loan taken by the Punjab government from ADB under its IDIPT project for Punjab sites of which Rs 40-50 crore was meant for the Gobindgarh Fort.
Manu Gandhi, a representative of Mayanagri, said, “Entry fee for the theme park is Rs 25. There will be separate prices for other elements inside – such as sound show for Rs 100, food, rides, etc.”
Asked about the government’s revenue-sharing arrangement with the company, Pratima Shrivastav, additional director of the project, said, “The entire staff is too busy in inauguration preparations to divulge any details as of now.”
The move, however, has baffled historians, who argue that converting the Sikh warrior’s fort into a theme park is against the guidelines of the Archaeological Survey of India. According to National Conservation Policy, ASI, Article 4.02, “A monument or an archaeological site should be subject to minimum – whilst only necessary — interventions in order to maintain its authenticity and integrity.”
“As per historic record of the fort, the moat walls were exposed nanakshahi bricks in lime mortar and flush pointed. Now they have been plastered. The inner fort building walls were off-white and yellowish which has now been changed to pink-peachy-orange shades. There is a VIP parking in the moat of the fort developed after spreading fresh soil. New elements like fountains have been made just to add glamour and glitz quotient to the theme park. Nothing in this Mayanagri Theme Park is left now about the real values and personality that Maharaja Ranjit Singh was all about,” one of the sources associated with the fort’s restoration work told The Indian Express. However, Randhawa said, “We are not compromising on authenticity of the fort. In fact, we have painted it in original colours. There is a plan to open tented accommodations also in second phase.”
Gurmeet Sangha Rai, director, Cultural Resource Conservation Initiative (CRCI), the consultants of Punjab government who prepared the complete master plan for the fort’s restoration before the Mumbai firm was roped in, questioned the move. “The significance of this Gobindgarh Fort is what Red Fort and Lahore Fort mean to Mughal empire. So, did governments of India and Pakistan convert these forts into theme parks named after private firms? Is the legacy of Ranjit Singh not enough that we need theme parks to attract visitors? With all this Bollywood-styled glitz added, even the theme park has nothing going with the spirit of great warrior. Asian Development Bank has sanctioned loan for this project and there are certain loan conditions as per which a protected monument cannot be converted into a commercial property.” Rai added, “You simply cannot install lights, wires, toilets, pipes and dig the earth anywhere near a protected monument.”
Dr Vasant Kumar Swarnkar, Superintending Archaeologist, ASI, Chandigarh circle, said, “As per ASI guidelines, the government cannot tamper with name and authenticity of the fort and that too at behest of a private profit-making company. We cannot interfere in this monument as it is under state but it is wrong.”
Sources said that of the 43-acre site of the monument, the government has retained only two buildings – Central building and Tosha Khaana — to be developed as museums while the rest of the site has been handed over to Mayanagri.
“Work on this theme park started 3-4 months back only and in a hurry to inaugurate the monument before polls, the theme park has also been declared open. A laser-and-sound show and food stalls are being made operational while the rest of facilities like restaurant, hotel, etc, are planned in phase 2. Mayanagri is still chalking out details of other entertainment ventures to be started which might also include 3D/5D shows,” said the source.