Taj Mahal up for ‘adoption’, GMR and ITC in the race
Consumer products and cigarette company ITC Ltd and a company that is part of infrastructure conglomerate GMR Group are in the race to adopt India’s most iconic monument, the Taj Mahal, under the government’s ‘Adopt A Heritage’ scheme.
The scheme envisages the adoption of historical sites and monuments by private and state-owned companies. The companies are expected to pay for the upkeep of the monument or site from their CSR (corporate social responsibility) budget. The site or monument will remain under the purview of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). Indian law requires companies to spend 2% of their profit on CSR activities.
Spokespersons for both ITC and GMR confirmed that they have expressed interest in adopting the Taj and written to the ministry of tourism.
When the scheme was launched in September last year, GMR Sports Private Limited, best known as the owner of the Delhi Daredevils team in the Indian Premier League, made its bid to adopt the Taj Mahal. Companies were allowed to bid to adopt any monument or historical site.
In response to GMR’s bid, the government said the Taj was not part of the scheme because of its importance.
“As such, the government proposed that GMR come up with a vision document to maintain the Taj corridor which connects the Taj Mahal to Agra Fort,” a senior official from the ASI said on condition of anonymity.
“On February 1, in the Union Budget, the government announced the development of 10 prominent tourist sites as iconic tourist destinations, and it was subsequently decided to put the Taj Mahal under the ‘Adopt a Heritage Scheme as well,” this person added.
“ITC is the second bidder for the monument under the scheme but no letter of intent (LoI) has been issued to either,” said the official.
Shortlisted bidders will be issued a LoI and asked to prepare and present a vision document on how they will manage and maintain the site or monument. A seven-member Oversight and Vision Committee, chaired by the secretary, tourism and comprising senior officials from the tourism and culture ministries and ASI, will decide who gets to adopt the site or monument based on the presentation.
The GMR spokesperson said that apart from the Taj Mahal, it has also bid for the Itimad-Ud-Daulah and the Red Fort .
According to the ITC spokesperson, the company has bid for the Rock Cut Hindu Temples in Andhra Pradesh and the Charminar in Hyderabad.
Tourism Minister KJ Alphons informed Parliament on March 19 that “Letters of Intent have been issued to 24 agencies for the Submission of Vision Bids for 75 sites, other than Taj Mahal. Two expressions of interest have been received for the Taj. However, no decision has been taken yet.”
The minister didn’t reveal the name of two companies in Parliament.
The bids suggest that most companies are interested in adopting monuments around their area of operations.
Alphons said that the primary purpose of the scheme is to let the community perceive that it “owns the monuments”, rather than government agencies such as ASI.
“The main structure will remain with the ASI and the selected corporate entity will provide basic amenities..., cleanliness, public conveniences, ease of access ..., besides advanced amenities such as cafeteria, surveillance system ...” he added.
Subhash Goyal, Chairman, Tourism Expert committee, ASSOCHAM welcomed the scheme. “Putting the Taj Mahal under the scheme is good initiative. It’s an iconic site and tourists must get an awesome experience while visiting such a site. This scheme will ensure that.”