Involvement of Pvt sector is the need of the hour

Involvement of Pvt sector is the need of the hour

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In Vatakkottai in Kanyakumari, one of the mandapas out of four pillared mandapas was closed by constructing walls and a door which the ASI has been using as store room

In recent years, the government has launched several schemes and programs to maintain heritage sites and cities on a sustainable basis. Though the intent of the government is noble one these schemes have become subject of controversies with many activists and political parties reading too much into these programs. Some of the schemes announced by the government in recent years to promote heritage sites and monuments are:

The Ministry of Housing & Urban Affairs, in January 2015 launched the National Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana (HRIDAY), with a total outlay of Rs. 500 Cr. HRIDAY scheme aims at preserving and revitalizing the soul and the unique character of the heritage cities in lndia. HRIDAY Scheme supports the development of core heritage linked civic infrastructure projects which includes revitalization of urban infrastructure for areas around heritage, religious, cultural and tourism assets of the cities. These initiatives include development of water supply, sanitation, drainage, waste management, approach roads, footpaths, street lights, tourist conveniences, electricity wiring, landscaping etc.

Under the Scheme, twelve cities namely, Ajmer, Amritsar, Amaravati, Badami, Dwarka, Gaya, Kanchipuram, Mathura, Puri, Varanasi, Velankanni, and Warangal have been identified for development. The mission period of HRIDAY Scheme is till November, 2018. So far, 63 projects amounting to Rs. 421.47 cr. for the12 HRIDAY Cities have been approved under the Scheme out of which 241.26 cr. has been released. Project implementation has begun in all 12 cities and the physical progress of the scheme so far is around 40%.

Another important program relating to heritage and monuments was launched by the Ministry of Tourism in close collaboration with Ministry of Culture and Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) called “Adopt a Heritage Project” to provide world class tourist facilities at the various natural/cultural heritage sites, monuments and other tourist sites to make them tourist friendly, enhance their tourist potential and cultural importance in a planned and phased manner across the country. The project envisages to entrust heritage sites to the private sector companies, public sector companies and individuals for development of tourist amenities. They would become ‘Monument Mitra’ and adopt the sites essentially under their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activity. They would also look after the operations and maintenance of these amenities.

The project primarily focuses on providing basic amenities that include cleanliness, public convenience, drinking water, ease of access for tourists, signage etc. and advanced amenities like TFC, Souvenir shop, Cafeteria etc. So far, under this program Letter of Intent has been issued to 24 agencies for the Submission of Vision Bids for 75 sites, other than Taj. Two expression of interest has been received for Taj. However, no decision has been taken yet.

However, this program has attracted lot of criticism from the opposition parties who consider some of the contracts as sell out to private parties. In the past, several palaces had been handed over to private parties to convert them into commercial properties like hotels but did not elicit any protest from any quarters. In most of the cities many public parks have been handed over to private companies for maintenance purposes without attracting any opposition from activists. It is strange that when heritage sites and monuments are handed over to private companies and other corporates some people start viewing it from different perspective. Since last seven decades we have been witnessing sorry state of affairs of our heritages which we consider as our national pride. With nothing much happening on their upkeep and preservation all these years we have been left with only two options – either allow them to become rubble and rue our fate or rope in people with financial muscle to improve their condition. Common sense favours the second option.  

Doubts have been raised about the capabilities and experience of the private parties in preserving and conserving the heritage sites and monuments. If it is believed that ASI is the only agency which is capable of protecting our monuments and heritage sites, then look at some of the jobs done by ASI:

  • In Vatakkottai in Kanyakumari, one of the mandapas out of four pillared mandapas was closed by constructing walls and a door which the ASI has been using as store room.
  • Yellow Mosque of Murshidabad became white coloured mosque due to improper conservation work done by ASI thus completely changing the original look of the mosque.
  • The arcaded verandah of the right side of the ancient palace of Raja Suchet Singh in Ramnagar was converted into a lounge with bathrooms and kitchen and a portion was used as office.

These are some of the instances where ASI used its ‘experience’ to alter the original structure itself.

Further, ASI neither has the funds nor the manpower to carry out the required tasks whereas private parties with deep pockets though lack experience can employ suitable personnel to carry out the tasks without damaging the original structure. Further, delay in implementing the projects can be avoided if handed over to private parties. Most of the time project gets delayed due to scarcity of funds.

Therefore, we need to think out of the box to save our heritage sites and monuments. Inviting private parties and corporates is an apt decision as all other options have not yielded any desired results all these years.