#IndiaOnSale began trending on social media following a private conglomerate’s ‘adoption’ of the Red Fort for a whopping INR 25 crores (a crore denotes 10 million, therefore, approximately GBP 2,786,941). Others, however, have supported the decision by labelling it a progressive step for the protection of iconic sites around the South Asian country.
The brainchild of the Indian Ministry of Tourism, the Archaeological Survey of India and the Ministry of Culture, the ‘Adopt a Heritage’ scheme was first launched on World Tourism Day in September 2017. 93 ASI (Archaeological Survey of India)-listed monuments and World Heritage Sites across India were put up for corporate adoption, including the likes of the iconic Taj Mahal and the India Gate.
The companies and individuals partnering with the government under the scheme are referred to as ‘Monument Mitras’. The government has laid out three parameters for their selection – their financial credentials, their success stories with similar projects and their vision for the structure.
However, the speed at which the scheme was proposed and implemented has raised a few eyebrows. Will these private entities gain ownership of the site?
The government has denied this. ‘The ownership of these sites has not changed. There’s just a temporary change in their management and accessibility for a certain period of time’.
‘Monument Mitras’ will be responsible for the development, operation and maintenance of amenities and facilities of the adopted site, such as cleanliness, drinking water, accessibility, signage, lavatories, tourist multi-purpose centres, surveillance, illumination and other upkeep work. It will also take care of the site under its Corporate Social Responsibility activity.
The country’s leading cement supplier, Dalmia Bharat Group, has already adopted the historically and politically significant Red Fort and the 13th-century Gandikota Fort in the Grand Canyon of India. The SBI Foundation has obtained the rights to maintain the Jantar Mantar in Delhi while the online travel company, Yatra, has adopted the Qutub Minar, the temples of Hampi, the Ajanta Caves in Maharashtra and Stok Palace in Leh. ITC Limited and GMR Sports have expressed interest in acquiring the maintenance rights of the Taj Mahal.
The corrosive effects of time, lack of adequate maintenance and human interaction have led to the degradation of these sites. In addition, the Archaeological Survey of India is starved for funds and manpower to manage and maintain these sites. In light of this, it can be considered a good step.
According to the government, ‘the Monument Mitra will make no profit from the site, however, they will get visibility on the premises as well as the Incredible India website, besides other benefits (which are yet to be known). At its core, the scheme will enhance the tourist attractiveness of the site, promote cultural and heritage value of the country, create employment opportunities through the active participation of local communities and result in economic development’.
Supporters have already embraced the scheme.
Others, however, are quite wary of the situation.