India is allowing top business houses to adopt its heritage sites much to the chagrin of heritage activists.
The Dalmia Bharat group has won a bid to adopt the historic Red Fort, a 17th century Mughal monument in Delhi and the site where India’s prime minister addresses the nation on its Independence Day every year.
The 77-year-old corporate group beat IndiGo Airlines and GMR group to bag the contract worth Rs 250 million under the “Adopt a Heritage” scheme which was launched last September.
Almost 100 other monuments and heritage sites have been put up for adoption – including the iconic Taj Mahal at Agra in the country’s north. Considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Taj
Mahal was knocked off the tourist list of Uttar Pradesh last year, shocking heritage activists.
Reports say there are two corporate houses – GMR and tobacco company ITC Ltd – bidding for this premium contract.
The white marble mausoleum was built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal in the 17th century. It draws seven to eight million visitors a year and was listed as a Unesco World Heritage site in 1983.
India’s main Opposion Congress and several political leaders have criticised the government’s move to lease out monuments to private entities for upkeep. “After handing over the Red Fort to the Dalmia
group, which is the next distinguished location that the BJP government will lease out to a private entity? #IndiaSpeaks” tweeted the Congress party.
Sitaram Yechury, a top leader of a Left party, asked the government to reverse its decision. “Stop Privatising India’s Heritage: The Parliamentary Committee that went into the issue of handing over
heritage sites to private corporate had decided against this unanimously. Govt should reverse its decision of privatising the Red Fort,” Yechury posted on Twitter.
Minister of State for Culture Mahesh Sharma defended the government’s move, saying that the Red Fort was not “auctioned off” but “adopted” for better preservation.
Audrey Truschke, an authority on Indian Mughal history, tweeted her surprise and shock: “Shah Jahan’s iconic Red Fort in Delhi is now Dalmia Bharat group’s Red Fort”.
Legendary historian-writer William Dalrymple said “there must be better ways of maintaining a nation’s greatest monuments than by auctioning them off to a corporate house”.
Apart from the upkeep, the corporates will also produce brochures about the monument’s history – which is a source of concern for many. Hindu nationalists have been accused of distorting history – one
example being a claim that the Taj Mahal was built on a Hindu temple.
Meanwhile, India’s Supreme Court has ticked off the government for not doing enough to preserve the Taj Mahal. The regal white marbled monument has stained due to pollution and other reasons and last month a storm ravaged two of its minarets.
“Even if you have the expertise, you are not utilising it. Or perhaps you don’t care,” the court’s justices noted, ordering the government to consult experts in India and abroad to address the issue.
India has nearly 3,700 historic monuments, including 31 Unesco World Heritage sites.