Union ministers may have invoked the “recommendations” of the Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture to defend the adoption of Red Fort by the Dalmia Group but the committee, according to sources, had expressed grave reservations about the project when the issue was discussed on February 12 this year in the presence of Tourism Secretary Rashmi Verma.
Sources in the committee said members used world such as “selling” to drive home their doubts about the project and asked the ministry to get back after a few pilots.
The standing committee report is being used as a defence by many ministers. But by the time the ‘Adopt a Heritage’ scheme was being discussed in the committee this February, the process of finalising the bidder for Red Fort was in the advanced stages.
“The ministry presented the idea of Adopt a Heritage to the committee in February for adopting about a hundred monuments. We had serious reservations about the execution. Verbatim records of our meetings, which I can’t disclose because of Parliamentary procedure, will confirm this,” committee chairman Derek O’Brien said. “We made some concrete suggestions — the most important one was doing a prototype (pilot) on one of the monuments before proceeding at all with the idea.”
Even in the report on the ministry’s demand for grants, the scheme was “welcomed: with riders”. Sources in the committee said while it was made clear to secretary Rashmi Verma that they disagreed with her model of “going to look for selling something”, she made it clear that the scheme would have no financial implications for the government, and that the selected companies would spend money from CSR funds.
In an announcement on April 24, Dalmia Bharat Group had said that it had become the first corporate to sign an MoU with the government under the “Adopt a Heritage” scheme. The announcement caused a furore, with opposition parties accusing the government of “selling off” India’s heritage.
The government was not oblivious to the issues. The minutes of the second meeting of the Oversight and Vision Committee on “Adopt a Heritage” project, held on October 23 last year, show that at least one bid was rejected because of the sensitive nature of the monument. The Prime Minister addresses the nation on August 15 from the ramparts of the Red Fort, making it one of the most sensitive monuments.