The argument against the privatisation of Indian heritages struck the Indian politics since the Central government leased out the historic Red Fort in New Delhi and the Gandikota Fort in Kadapa district of Andhra Pradesh to the Dalmia Bharat Group on Saturday.
The Dalmia Bharat Limited became the first corporate to be a part of the ‘Adopt a Heritage’ initiative launched by the Prime Minister Modi led-government in September 2017 and won the contract to adopt these two national heritages of India surpassing IndiGo and the GMR Group.
In no time after the official confirmation, the Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party in the Centre was slammed by the nationwide opposition parties, heritage activists, historians and common men. Calling it ‘blasphemous’ and a ‘sad and dark day in India’s history’, every individual expressed their unhappiness and criticised the government’s feebleness for failing to maintain the ‘symbol of Independent India’.
National Spokesperson of Congress Priyanka Chaturvedi called it an unjustified attempt by the central government. “Our heritages are associated with the identity of India and its culture. There are many monuments in India which are unfamiliar to many tourists; will they attract the same attention from the private firms? What will the government do with the taxpayers’ money? If they have good intentions to get private funding to improve tourism, they can adopt lesser known heritage sites across the nation. But it seems the government is trying to give branding space to the corporate houses,” she added.
‘Adopt a Heritage’ Project is a collective initiative between the Ministry of Tourism, Ministry of Culture and Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), and State, UTs Governments that focus on developing synergy among all partners to effectively promote responsible tourism. But its approach to involve public and private sector companies and corporate citizens/individuals to take over the role for the development and maintenance of Indian heritage sites got no warm welcome. In reality, the handing over of the Red Fort to a private entity added to the list of public grievances towards the inefficient governance by the BJP government.
While the West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee questioned, “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?” Congress party tweeted, “Which is the next distinguished location that the BJP government will lease out to a private entity?”
However, the Union Minister of State for Culture Mahesh Sharma ousted all allegations and called the step a ‘non-revenue generating project’ and also tried to sort out the chaos with a statement — ‘contract signed with the Dalmia group does not involve any sort of profit-making activity’.
Dr. K. Haridasan Pillai, Director of National Heritage Centre said, “I support the government decision and even if the Red Fort is given to a private company, rules and regulations still exist. They have to abide by certain guidelines and they cannot act independently. So, I don’t think that the national interest is getting scrutinised.”
In a contract worth Rs 25 crore spanning five years, the Dalmia Bharat Group will supervise the operations and maintenance of the assigned two heritage sites. The work will make a start on May 23 and will hand it over temporarily to the security agencies in July for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s last Independence Day address of his tenure.
In the meanwhile, earlier this month, the government shortlisted 31 prospective friends of heritage sites to develop and improve tourist-friendly amenities (public conveniences, clean drinking water facilities, cleanliness of the heritage sites, proper surveillance, tourist facilitation, etc.) at 95 monuments, heritages and other tourist sites across the nation. On April 24, the Ministry of Tourism, under the Phase-IV of the ‘Adopt a Heritage’ Project, also granted Letters of Intent to nine agencies for 22 monuments including Taj Mahal in Uttar Pradesh, Lotus Mahal in Hampi, Karnataka, Chittorgarh Fort in Rajasthan and Mehrauli Archaeological Park in New Delhi.
Heritage activist and educationist Vikramjit Singh Rooprai expressed, “There are many other monuments which are maintained by the private companies. The impression that with this contract the Red Fort is sold to a private entity is not right. They will help improve facilities like cleanliness, sanitation, drinking water supply and many more. The only concern is the authority given to such private companies should not be misused at any cost. We need to improve the productivity of ASI.”
Heritage sites are the pride for our nation and also a rich source of income through tourists. Taking care of the country’s heritages is an important duty that devolves on the respective state government as well as the central government. But, by passing the custody of the 17th century Red Fort built by India’s fifth Mughal ruler Shah Jahan to a private firm, both the culture ministry and the ASI are discarding its responsibilities and we can only hope that this haste decision will not add to the list of arrogant decisions like note ban or GST.
Why are only prominent sites in the queue to be adopted? What about the small and unfamiliar tourist attraction sites? If the intention is to promote tourism, why heritage sites like the tomb of Adam Khan, Baldev Jew temple, Sidha Jagannath temple, etc. are in a state of complete dilapidation and why does government attention fail to reach there — the wait is to get an answer to these unanswered questions!
Senior state BJP leader Madhav Bhandari stated, “Maintenance of national heritages require a large amount of money and adequate manpower. The government feels there’s a limitation to both money and human resources for the purpose. Not only in India but across the world, many heritages are maintained by the private companies. Few political parties are spreading such negative politics in our country. Congress should answer where they have used the taxpayers’ money allotted for heritage maintenance in their 60 years of rule!”