Mitron, we just ‘sold’ the Red Fort!


New Delhi : Is it privatisation of India’s heritage? The Congress thinks so. It kicked up a row on Saturday, citing a five-year contract with a renewable clause signed for a pittance of Rs 25 crore with the Dalmia Bharat group of companies to develop tourism facilities in the Red Fort (Lal Quila) built in Delhi in the 17th Century by India’s first Mughal emperor Shah Jahan.

“After handing over Red Fort to Dalmia group, which is the next distinguished location that BJP government will lease out to a private entity,” the Congress asked in a tweet, seeking votes on whether it will be Parliament, Lok Kalyan Marg (Race Course Road where PM lives), Supreme Court or all of them.

Undeterred by the Congress protest, a top government official said that PM Modi had personally cleared the scheme to bring in corporate control of some monuments and heritage sites for handling maintenance and operations more professionally and as such there is no going back. Just wait for another announcement on the Taj Mahal as a decision is at an advanced stage, he said.

Social media was agog with criticism after Congress took the initiative within days of the Tourism Ministry announcing the Red Fort contract to Dalmia Bharat which beat IndiGo Airlines and GMR group in the contest. Dalmias, in fact, also bagged another contract for Gandikota Fort in Kadapa district of Andhra Pradesh.

The Congress attack remained fixed just on Red Fort adoption as revealed by the Tourism Ministry on Wednesday while the ministry has rather awarded Letters of Intent to 24 entities for 76 monuments under “Adopt the Heritage” scheme that includes Taj Mahal in Agra, Chittorgarh Fort in Rajasthan and Mehrauli Archaeological Park and Gol Gumbad in Delhi.

The infrastructure conglomerate GMR Group and consumer products and cigarette company ITC Ltd have already expressed interest to adopt Taj Mahal, though no decision has been taken yet, says a government press note of March 19 that went unnoticed.

The government was quick to assert that Red Fort has not been leased out nor will the company make any financial gains nor will it be allowed to do any correction work on the monument. The company has been roped in only to provide support services for attracting more tourists, it said.

Red Fort remains the property of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and Dalmias cannot make any changes in the historical monument nor make money in any way as the scheme under which they bagged the contract is only aimed to protect, preserve and market the heritage of India, Tourism Minister K J Alphons and Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma said.

Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for Red Fort was signed by the Tourism Ministry, Culture Ministry, ASI and Dalmia Bharat on April 9, but the controversy erupted after the Tourism Ministry made it public on Wednesday.

The two ministers said the deal is part of the “Adopt the heritage” scheme (Apni Dharohar Apni Pehchan Project) launched by the President of India on World Tourism Day on September 27 last year to encourage private and public sector companies and corporate individuals as well as NGOs to adopt heritage sites and to take up responsibility to promote sustainable tourism by creating new facilities.

The Congress asked whether there’s a shortage of funds with the Ministry of Tourism and ASI to bring in the private corporate sector. Mahesh Sharma asserted that there is no shortage of funds to maintain monuments, but it is part of the scheme to involve people in their promotions instead of all responsibilities falling on the government.

Though Sharma claimed that the companies will be adopting the heritage sites as a “social responsibility” and not to make any money out of it, Dalmia Bharat Group that bagged the Red Fort contract thinks otherwise as its executives claimed that it will charge people visiting the Red Fort for the semi-commercial activities that it plans to conduct as the MoU envisages rate-fixing by a joint committee of Culture Ministry, ASI and Dalmia Bharat Group.

Puneet Dalmia, Managing Director of the Dalmia Bharat Group said, “We are honoured to have adopted one of India’s top heritage sites. At Dalmia Bharat, we take pride in Indian culture and practise it at the workplace. For us, it is an extension of what we believe in. Adopting a Heritage Project is a unique endeavour by the Ministry of Tourism which envisions developing monuments, heritage and tourist sites across India to enhance their tourism potential and cultural importance. We look forward to adding value to India’s heritage sites in every possible manner.”

The MoU envisages Dalmias to start work within 30 days and complete two tasks before PM Modi’s Independence Day address from Red Fort. These are front facade lighting and an art installation for the Independence Day event.

The contract requires Dalmias to provide certain basic amenities within six months like drinking water kiosks, street furniture-like benches and shop signage while one-year targets include tactile maps, upgraded toilets, lighting up pathways and bollards, landscaping, building a 1000 sq ft visitors facility centre, 3-D projection mapping of Red Fort interior and exterior, battery-operated vehicles and a thematic cafeteria.

Tasks that need to be completed within two years include setting-up exhibitions in cells under the Asad Burj, virtual reality-based monument interpretation, building night trails and structural illumination of the entire Red Fort. There are certain basic amenities that have to be provided within two years. These include installing turnstiles at checkpoints, fencing with sliding doors and tactile paving.


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