Let heritage conservation become our concern2 -min
The "Adopt a Heritage" project of the government plans to entrust heritage sites/monuments and other tourist sites to private sector companies, public sector companies and individuals for the development of tourist amenities. Some of the project included in the project are Fatehpur Sikri in Agra, Chand Baoli in Abhaneri, Pangong Tso in Ladakh and Sunderbans National Park in West Bengal. If the project becomes successful or is allowed to become successful, you may see these national heritages in 'tourist friendly' condition
Suddenly the opposition parties seeing an enemy in the government’s “Monument Mitra” programme. According to them the basic objective of the programme is to hand over national heritages to private companies. The trigger for the opposition onslaught on Ministry of Tourism was the recent decision of the government to enter into memorandum of understanding with Dalmia Bharat Group to maintain Delhi’s Red Fort and build basic infrastructure around it. Dalmias have committed a sum of Rs 25 crore for the purpose over a period spanning five years. On the other hand, opposition parties view this decision as handing over the symbol of India’s Independence to a corporate.
The “Adopt a Heritage” project of the government plans to entrust heritage sites/monuments and other tourist sites to private sector companies, public sector companies and individuals for the development of tourist amenities. They would become ‘Monument Mitras’ and adopt the sites. The basic and advanced amenities of the tourist destinations would be provided by them. They would also look after the operations and the maintenance of the amenities. Initially the project would cover only 93 ASI monuments and later on would be expanded to other natural and cultural sites across India. Some of the project included in the project are Fatehpur Sikri in Agra, Chand Baoli in Abhaneri, Pangong Tso in Ladakh and Sunderbans National Park in West Bengal. If the project becomes successful or is allowed to become successful, you may see these national heritages in ‘tourist friendly’ condition.
But the opposition doubts the intention of the government and sees a stealth attempt to hand over national heritages to private parties. The scenario is reminiscent of the situation prevailing in erstwhile Vajpayee government when it was disinvesting government’s stake in some of the PSUs. Then the government’s intention was to raise more money to fund development activities and wash its hands off from non-core government activities. Though the comparison is natural as on both the occasions same NDA government is in power, objective and expected end results are different. Objective here is not to raise funds to fill fiscal deficit nor the government is going to give up its ownership on the properties. It’s a pure maintenance contract with an aim to promote tourism industry.
Some experts have questioned the knowledge and experience of the private parties in heritage conservation. It’s true that private entrepreneurs are not actively involved in heritage maintenance projects in the country and they lack experience in heritage protection. At the same time, it should be noted that they have the resources to employ those who have experience in the field and get the things done. Further, unlike in the past, profitable companies have to deploy a part of their profit in CSR activities and conservation of heritage is one of those activities eligible for spending CSR money.
In the past, Archaeological Survey of India used to undertake development of heritage sites with the help of private parties. For example, ASI has undertaken conservation and development of Humayun’s Tomb, Delhi in collaboration with Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) and conservation and development of Tomb of Mohammed Shah known as Mubarak Shah’s Gumbad, Delhi in collaboration with Indian National Trust for Cultural Heritage (INTACH). However, such acts of development were selective and if they have to be undertaken on a large scale, direct involvement of private partner or public-sector companies with deep pocket is necessary. It is a well-known fact that ASI doesn’t have the wherewithal to develop/maintain/protect the heritage monuments efficiently all over the country on a large scale. Otherwise, monuments in our country wouldn’t have been in ruins today. The only option the government has is – invite or delete, meaning invite private parties to maintain heritage monuments or just leave them unattended (as has been the case) and see them ultimately becoming heap of debris.
The present opposition seems to be politically motivated but its consequences will have to be shared/suffered by everyone. Opposition parties may be doing their job as watchdog but in that process, there is every possibility of driving the interested private parties away from participating in “Adopt a Heritage” scheme. If that happens it will be a great setback for nation’s heritage protection programme and also for the tourism industry.