New Delhi: Opposition parties on Saturday questioned the government’s move to allow a private entity to maintain the iconic Red Fort, days after a corporate house signed an agreement with the tourism ministry under its ‘Adopt a Heritage’ project.
The Dalmia Bharat Group, under the memorandum of understanding, would maintain the 17th century monument and build basic infrastructure around it and has committed a sum of Rs 25 crore for the purpose over a period spanning five years.
The decision was opposed by the Congress, the CPI(M) and the Trinamool Congress, which slammed the government for virtually handing over the symbol of India’s independence to a corporate entity.
“Prime Minister Narendra Modi is preparing to mortgage India’s symbol of independence, the Red Fort to corporates. Does Modiji or BJP even understand the importance of Lal Quila?” Congress’s chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said.
He said, “Is it not true that the private company will now issue tickets to see the Red Fort? Is it not true that if anyone wants to do any commercial activity there, or any function, the private party has to be paid?”
“Can you barter out the symbol of freedom movement like the Red Fort to his corporate friends for maintenance,” Surjewala said.
Under the agreement signed on April 24, the Dalmia Bharat group has agreed to make available certain basic amenities at the monument within six months. These include providing drinking water kiosks, street furniture-like benches and signages to guide the visitors, according to the ministry.
Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee tweeted, “Why can’t the Government even take care of our historic Lal Qila? Red Fort is a symbol of our nation. It is where India’s flag is hoisted on Independence Day. Why should it be leased out? Sad and dark day in our history.”
Deploring the move, the CPI(M) said that the government has virtually handed over the Red Fort to the Dalmia group.
“The Dalmia group in its own press release has said that they will have to own it for five years initially and the agreement gives them the freedom to make the Dalmia brand prominently visible. It has the right to use its brand name on all kinds of publicity material to be displayed during events organised at the site and also on all signages. In fact, it will be allowed to proclaim in a prominently displayed sign that the Red Fort has been adopted by Dalmia Bharat Limited,” the Left party said.
It said that the Red Fort is a symbol of independent India and handing over the monument to a corporate entity was “nothing short of blasphemous”.
Responding to the allegations, minister of state for tourism K.J. Alphons said under the scheme started last year, the ministry is looking at public participation to develop heritage monuments.
“The companies involved in these projects will only spend and not make money. They will create amenities such as toilets, provide drinking water for the tourists so that their footfalls increase. They might put up signs outside to say that they have developed the amenities. If they are spending money, there is nothing wrong in taking credit for it,” he said.
“I want to ask the Congress what they did for the past 70 years. All the monuments and facilities around them are in terrible shape. In some places, there were no facilities at all.,” he said.
In a statement, the tourism ministry said the agreement signed for the Red Fort ‘is only’ for the development, operations and maintenance of tourism amenities in and around the monument and envisages limited access of non-core areas.
As of March this year, 31 prospective ‘Monument Mitras’ (friends of heritage sites) have been shortlisted by a oversight and vision committee for developing tourist-friendly amenities at 95 monuments, heritage and other tourist sites including the Red Fort, Qutub Minar (in Delhi), Hampi (Karnataka), Sun Temple (Odisha), Ajanta Caves (Maharashtra), Char Minar (Telangana) and Kaziranga National Park (Assam).
Earlier, criticising the government, Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera asked, “What is your commitment to the idea of India, to the history of India?”
IndiGo airline and the GMR group were also in the race to bag the project.
The Dalmia group has also agreed to put up within a year tactile maps, upgrade toilets, light up the pathways and bollards, carry out restoration work and landscaping and build a 1,000-square-foot visitor facility centre. It will also provide a 3-D projection mapping of the fort’s interior and exterior, battery-operated vehicles and charging stations for such vehicles and a thematic cafeteria.
Meanwhile, minister of state for culture Mahesh Sharma said that it was a great initiative and would help make heritage sites more attractive for tourists.
The president announced a government scheme on World Tourism Day, 2017 that those interested in value addition to any services oat monuments can come forward. Some services of the Red Fort have been given to the Dalmia group. No profit activity will take place, he said.