Minister Alphons defends handing over Red Fort to private company, says it will help tourism
The Union tourism ministry’s decision last week to hand over the iconic Red Fort to a leading corporate group, Dalmia Bharat, under its ‘Adopt a Heritage’ scheme to ensure more pleasant experience for tourists in terms of amenities available to them, triggered a furore with the Congress accusing the government of bartering away symbols of India’s freedom movement.
But Union minister of state for tourism, KJ Alphons has dismissed the allegations and accused the Congress of doing nothing to protect India’s heritage. He told Hindustan Times that the scheme will help fulfill his dream to get 100 million tourists in the country in a few years. Excerpts from the interview:
What’s your response to the Congress Party’s allegation that you have bartered away the symbol of freedom movement such as Red Fort to a private company?
You should ask them why Manmohan Singh gave Humayun’s Tomb to a foreign agency, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) for restoration. Mr Singh had praised the Trust’s work and also said that we needed such public-private partnership for restoration of our heritage.
So according to you the only way to improve amenities at tourists sites is through the involvement of private companies?
Yes, I must say Aga Khan Trust for Culture has done a fabulous job. Our country has 5000-year-old civilization but it’s all lying in terrible shape because there is not even a toilet, no drinking water, no cafeteria at prominent tourist sites. Is this how we should look after our heritage? What was the Congress Party doing for 70 years? All our heritage have crumbled in 70 years of their rule.
Aga Khan Trust was involved in restoration of the Humayun’s tomb also. But isn’t “Adopt a Heritage’ different from that as it will only allow maintenance of tourism facilities?
Yes, unlike the Congress government that allowed Aga Khan Trust for Culture to do restoration of Humayun’s Tomb, the government is not handing over any heritage building to anybody as private companies will only do cleaning work, construct toilets, provide drinking water and parking by spending their own money. They will not get any financial assistance from the government. They will not touch the restoration work at all. The private players will only ensure that all these destinations are tourist friendly.
You say you want to increase the number of foreign tourists from 10 million to 100 million. Will such schemes help in achieving the target?
You see Spain gets 85 million tourists, France and America each get 75 million tourists. We have 100 times more heritage than those countries. Why are people not coming to our heritage site because it’s ill-maintained and in bad shape. It’s my dream to get 100 million tourists in this country. How will we do that? Only when we keep our monuments neat and clean and provide basic facilities.