In what could mark the entry of private sector in the upkeep of heritage sites, the Centre is likely to lease out the maintenance of five World Heritage Sites, including the Taj Mahal, to the Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO).
The other four monuments on the list are: Fatehpur Sikri, Agra Fort (both in Agra), and Qutub Minar and Red Fort in Delhi. The ownership rights, however, will remain with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
“As things stand now, we’re basically looking at the overall maintenance of the five monuments to increase tourist inflow,” a senior IATO office-bearer, who didn’t wish to be identified, told Hindustan Times. At present, the ASI is responsible for the maintenance.
Plans to undertake the renovation of the five structures, probably under the supervision of the ASI, would be finalised only after the proposed memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed, the officer said.
“We’ve not been informed of any such decision or proposal,” ASI chief (Agra circle) D.N. Dimri told HT. ASI director general N.K. Srivastav could not be reached for comments despite repeated efforts.
Earlier, IATO president Vijay Thakur had told HT over the phone from Delhi, “I’m told these monuments don’t have good toilets or sanitation facilities. We’re adopting these monuments and the IATO will primarily look at these issues.”
The IATO is the national body of tourism industry that claims to have over 4,000 members.
Based on the performance of the private players, the project could be extended to other monuments, sources in the tourism ministry said. The five monuments are likely to be leased out for a period of either 33 years or 66 years.
Sources in the government told the HT that the MoU would be signed soon. “We will hand over only the maintenance of these sites to the IATO. The ownership rights will continue to be with the ASI,” a source said.