Allowing private firm to maintain Red Fort has global parallels, say experts
Even as a controversy rages over the government signing a memorandum of understanding with the Dalmia group for the maintenance of the Red Fort, experts say it is common for corporates to sponsor the development and upkeep of cultural heritages across the world.
Opposition parties have questioned the government’s move to allow the private entity to maintain the iconic Red Fort after the corporate house signed the memorandum of understanding (MoU) under the tourism ministry’s ‘Adopt a Heritage’ project.
The ministry has clarified that its project does not involve a financial bid and is only for the development and maintenance of tourism amenities.
Consumer products and cigarette company ITC Ltd and a company that is part of infrastructure conglomerate GMR Group are also in the race to adopt India’s most iconic monument, the Taj Mahal, under the government’s ‘Adopt A Heritage’ scheme.
Many European countries are known to involve private companies and societies for the maintenance as part of efforts to promote tourism.
“The scheme that the ministry of tourism has started is an internationally accepted practice where the conservation and restoration work remains with the expert body of the government as it involves scientific work and maintenance and operation of basic facilities are given to private players to enhance the overall experience of visitors,” said Rajeev Kohli, former senior vice president of the Indian Association of Tour Operators.
Italy has long sought sponsors to fund the restoration and maintenance of its archaeological sites, statues and ancient palazzos. The Colosseum went through a round of restoration recently after it was sponsored by a luxury hotel located nearby.
The Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Florence’s Uffizi gallery and several other heritage sites have also undergone facelifts with help from business houses and the fashion industry in their respective countries.
Rakesh Mathur, former president, ITC Welcome Heritage Hotels Group and Founder of Eco Tourism Society of India, said: “In some countries, boards are constituted or institutions are formed to control the destiny of the heritage. They look after all the aspects of the heritage. So I think it’s a very good initiative of the government to involve private players.”
In Egypt, a pilot project was launched to upgrade buildings in Cairo’s heritage areas. A bank from Kuwait was reported to have provided $3 million to draw up a detailed maps of the country’s ancient sites.
Another tourism expert, SK Mishra, who was former secretary in the ministry of tourism, said: “These private companies are adding to the infrastructure, landscaping, other facilities, etc.”
A German company that makes power-washing equipment also claims to have cleaned more than 100 monuments across the globe as part of its cultural sponsorship programme.
“As cleaning specialists we have been actively involved in supporting the preservation of historical monuments and buildings for over 30 years,” says the website of the company, Kärcher.
The company recently cleaned Indonesia’s national monument, an obelisk named Monas, for the first time in more than two decades. It has also power-washed Mount Rushmore and the Statue of Liberty in the United States.
Under the agreement signed for the ‘adoption’ of the Red Fort on April 24, the Dalmia Bharat group has agreed to make available certain basic amenities at the monument within six months.
These include providing drinking water kiosks, street furniture-like benches and signages to guide the visitors, according to the ministry.
“Prime Minister Narendra Modi is preparing to mortgage India’s symbol of Independence, the Red Fort to corporates. Does Modiji or BJP even understand the importance of Lal Quila?” Congress’ chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said.
Responding to the allegations, minister of state for tourism KJ Alphons said that under the scheme started last year, the ministry is looking at public participation to develop heritage monuments.