The private players may now exploit the tourism potential of Mumbai's Gateway of India, Banganga Tank, five forts and August Kranti Maidan along with some historic Maratha forts and ancient caves in Maharashtra.
In fact, the state wants them to do what the administration has not been able to accomplish over the years—develop, maintain and operate the legally protected yet neglected heritage sites.
The State Cabinet approved the scheme called the "Maharashtra Vaibhav-Sanrakshit Smarak (protected memorial) Yojana" on Friday, opening the avenues of commercialisation. In all, 244 heritage sites including forts, caves, gardens, tanks, temples and birthplaces of historic personalities will be up for the five-year adoption project.
The ownership of these places will remain with the state. In return, the private parties will get permission to use pictures of the site as advertising monogram, rights to photography and using the images shot for commercial purpose and income tax exemption on the amount spent on development.
However, the scheme comes with strings attached. The operator will charge entry fee as prescribed by the government committee and host the approved programmes like exhibitions, sound and light shows.
He will have to provide parking, cloakrooms, communication facility to the visitors and submit all financial transaction details to the state.
The sad saga of state's forts and caves is as legendary as their history. While the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is doing a comparatively better job at their sites like Ajanta and Ellora caves and some Maratha forts in western Maharashtra and Konkan, the state department has failed miserably in doing justice to the heritage places under its wings.
The prime examples of government's apathy are the Dharavi, St George, Mahim, Bandra and Shivadi forts in the state capital. All the five forts are expected to get some attention once the private parties are roped in.
The heritage lover may also expect beautification of the Banganaga Tank, one of the most neglected historic sites in south Mumbai and the messy August Kranti Maidan.
"It's true that the government couldn't do much to develop and maintain such historic sites for lack of money. But now we want to tap the tourism potential of these places and involve eligible private parties," the Minister of Culture Ashok Chavan told HT.
Chavan assured that the government would help developers remove encroachment from the sites. "After that it would be operators' responsibility to prevent encroachments," he added.
"The Gateway of India has also been included in the scheme," said Chavan, adding that the Sahyadri range forts Sinhgad and Vishalgad that were part of Maratha King Shivaji's empire will be up for a five-year adoption scheme. The tenders will be out very soon.
A private party will adopt historic/heritage site for five years for development and maintenance. In return, it will charge entry fee and commercially exploit the tourism and advertising potential of the leased place. It will get income tax exemption on the amount spent on development.
Places to benefit
Gateway of India, Banganga Tank, August Kranti maidan, 34 forts including Mumbai's Dharawi, St George, Mahim, Bandra and Shivadi, King Shivaji's Sinhgad and Viashalgad, 14 caves like Ghatotchak (near Aurangabad), Dharashiv, Bhorakdhjan, Khandeshwari (near Thane), Jain, Pandav, Bhrahami (northern Maharashtra), Buddha (Ratnagiri), birthplaces of historic personalities.