As A part of the Ministry of Tourism’s ‘Adopt a Heritage’ initiative, corporate giant Dalmia Bharat Limited has ‘adopted’ the Red Fort in the capital, as well as the Gandikota Fort in Andhra Pradesh, after signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and the Ministry of Tourism.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Tourism Minister K J Alphons said, “Private companies will only take care of basic amenities within the premises of a monument — cleanliness, water kiosks, toilets, illumination — and will have nothing to do with restoration work. That will only be undertaken by ASI.”
Under the MoU, the company will “manage operations and maintenance of the two heritage sites for the next five years, thereby becoming ‘Monument Mitra’.” Rs 25 crore has been committed towards this end.
Alphons explained: “We want community involvement, be it corporates or schools… Across the world, local communities protect monuments… we can’t just expect the government to do it.”
The move, however, came under criticism from the opposition. “Why can’t the government even take care of our historic Lal Qila? Red Fort is a symbol of our nation. It is where India’s flag is hoisted on Independence Day. Why should it be leased out? Sad and dark day in our history,” TMC chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said.
Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera said, “They are handing over the iconic monument to a private business… do you have dearth of funds? Why do funds for ASI lapse?”
A press note by the CPM stated: “We want to remind the government that the Parliamentary Committee that went into the issue of handing over heritage sites to private corporates had decided against it unanimously.”
Meenakshi Sharma, Additional Director General (Tourism), sought to address these concerns, saying: “There will be no big signage of corporates inside monuments… there will be limited visibility. If they landscape or build a toilet, a plaque will say it is being maintained by the corporate.”
Union Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma also insisted that “no profit activity will take place” and the scheme is “in keeping with the vision of value addition at the monuments”.
At Red Fort, the company’s long-term plan is to work on the sound and light show, installations, turnstile gates, app-based multi-lingual audio guide, free WiFi, a cafeteria, and accessibility for differently-abled visitors by construction of ramps, wheelchairs and Braille signage.
The initiative was launched by President Ram Nath Kovind on September 27 last year. So far, 93 monuments have been identified by the Ministry of Tourism for this initiative. In Delhi, these include Qutub Minar and the tomb of Adham Khan.
While historian Sohail Hashmi expressed apprehension that “signage of corporates will hamper aesthetics of monuments and people with vested interests might rewrite history”, conservation architect AGK Menon said this will allow “ASI to spend money on restoration and leave maintenance to corporates”.
Swapna Liddle, convener of INTACH’s Delhi chapter, said, “We need upgradation of facilities, so this model might work. We need to see how they’ll work on audio guides, who will do research and manage accuracy.”