Firm 'adopts' Red Fort, Opposition rages

Opposition parties on Saturday censured the government for letting a private entity, Dalmia Bharat Limited, "adopt" the Red Fort in Delhi and the Gandikota Fort in Andhra Pradesh.

By Pheroze L. Vincent
  • Published 29.04.18
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The Red Fort

New Delhi: Opposition parties on Saturday censured the government for letting a private entity, Dalmia Bharat Limited, "adopt" the Red Fort in Delhi and the Gandikota Fort in Andhra Pradesh.

The Centre has denied the Opposition charge that it was "handing over" the monuments.

"They are handing over the iconic monument to a private business. What is your commitment to the idea of India, to the history of India?" Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera said.

The CPM demanded the move be rescinded. A politburo statement said the deal "virtually hands over the iconic Red Fort in Delhi to the Dalmia group for a period of five years in exchange for a payment of 25 crores".

It added that the "parliamentary panel that went into the issue of handing over heritage sites to private corporate had decided against this unanimously".

A Union tourism ministry statement said the pact was "only for the development, operations and maintenance of tourism amenities in and around Red Fort".

"It envisages limited 'access' of non-core areas and 'no handing over of monument' is involved."

On Tuesday, the tourism ministry had announced that memorandums of understanding had been signed with Dalmia Bharat on April 9 under the Adopt A Heritage scheme, launched last September.

Among the signatories were the culture ministry and the Archaeological Survey of India, which conserves the monument.

The ministry said the memorandum covers toilet and drinking water facilities, ease of access for senior citizens and the differently abled, a standardised signage, illumination, surveillance, night viewing and a tourism facilitation centre, which it said would attract more tourists and create jobs.

The pact gives Dalmia Bharat the right to sell tickets and charge visitors for commercial activities inside at rates decided by a committee that will include company officials and nominees of the ASI and the culture ministry.

All the revenue generated is to be used only to maintain the monument, the memorandum says. It contains an indemnity clause saying Dalmia Bharat will not have to pay compensation in case of any litigation "brought against them arising from work performed".

The tourism ministry has said that 31 firms, including Dalmia Bharat, have so far been approved to adopt 95 monuments and tourist sites with their corporate social responsibility funds.

Two memorandums have been signed with the Adventure Tour Operators Association of India to adopt Mount Stok Kangri in Ladakh and the trail to Gaumukh in Uttarakhand, with the signatories including the respective state governments.

Former Union culture secretary Jawhar Sircar told The Telegraph: "The government can always try an experiment but it is only the ASI that is mandated under law to preserve our irreplaceable monuments." He added: "It also has the skills of conservation. So we can't say how dual charge will work - ASI for conservation and the private operator for ticketing and general maintenance of facilities. There should be no blame game."

Maharashtra had launched a similar scheme with monuments under its archaeological department in 2007, but only one corporate house has come forward so far to maintain the Naldurg Fort.

Arvind Jamkhedkar, current head of the Indian Council for Historical Research and former director of archaeology and museums in Maharashtra, had cautioned the state government against allowing boat and horse rides in the fort. He told this newspaper that there was no option but to bring in the private sector.

"The ASI and the state departments follow the British system of conserving monuments in which we don't interfere or try to reconstruct. There are newer methods, especially in urban heritage, where monuments are recreated and even recycled - like Europe rebuilding its cities after the Second World War," he said.

"We have to ensure that the soul of the monument is not lost, but we have to use new methods to involve the public, including corporate houses. We shall have to educate corporate houses and NGOs on how to go about it so that they don't cause damage."

Several companies have been drafted in to conserve monuments since 2009 through the National Culture Fund, but these were one-off efforts without long-term "adoption" or the right to charge visitors.

These include the State Bank of India, Calcutta Branch, for renovation and preservation of the Hazarduari Palace in Murshidabad in 2010; ONGC for Ahom monuments in Sibsagar; the Ramakrishna Mission for Gol Park; and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and the Oberoi Group of Hotels for Humayun's Tomb here.

Several public sector units had adopted monuments under the Campaign Clean India during the 12th five-year plan (2012 to 2017).