THE central government’s decision to lease heritage monuments to corporate houses seems to have been taken without much thought about how the leases are going to work on the ground. The government did not first throw up the idea open to the public for comments and feedback before taking the decision. Although the central government is taking the defence that the President announced the scheme on World Tourism Day 2017 on September 27, it is obvious that only the central government and those interested in ‘adopting’ monuments under the scheme ‘Adopt a Heritage: Apni Dharohar, Apni Pehchaan’ knew what was going on. The central government said they had invited corporate as well as citizens to come forward to adopt a monument. It was absurd to expect citizens to adopt a monument, as they would not have the money to pay for the lease amount. It was clear that the central government was expecting only corporates to adopt a monument.
The nation came to know of the ‘Adopt a Heritage’ scheme only after the media reported the leasing of the Red Fort to a corporate house. However, the Red Fort was only among nearly a hundred monuments and heritage sites across India that the central government had put up for adoption. These include the Taj Mahal in Uttar Pradesh, Kangra Fort in Himachal Pradesh, Buddhist Kaneri caves in Mumbai and at least six heritage sites in Goa that have been so far maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). Many sites which are not maintained by the ASI have also been put up for adoption, such as Chitkool village in Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh, Thembang in Arunachal Pradesh and the Sati Ghat at Haridwar, Uttarakhand have also been put up for adoption.
Before we are what is good and what is bad about the scheme, we must note that the scheme has been formulated and implemented by the central government without taking the states on board. Just because the ASI, which maintains the historical monuments, is a national organization it does not mean that the central ministry of culture could ignore the viewpoints of the state governments in the matter of maintenance of the heritage sites. In Goa, one of the cabinet ministers Vijai Sardesai has raised the issue how the central government could include six heritage sites in the state under the ‘Adopt a Heritage’ scheme without taking the state government on board. Even the other states where the BJP is in power, such as Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, UP and Bihar, might feel the same way Goa is feeling, of having been left out in the deliberations and discussions before the finalization of the scheme.
Now, coming to the scheme, the central government has not explained why it concluded that the ASI was not capable and competent enough anymore to maintain the heritage sites. Was it because the ASI did not have the money? Was it because it did not have expertise? Was it because it did not have manpower? We have known that the ASI has always been short on money and manpower, but never on expertise. Why did not the central government first think of giving the ASI enough money and manpower and see if they used their expertise without any constraints of funds and hands to do the jobs the central government has now given to corporates? The jobs the corporate houses adopting a heritage site are expected to do are, in the ministry of culture’s words, “creation, operation and maintenance of basic and advanced amenities to preserve the rich cultural and natural heritage and to promote tourism across the country.”
There is nothing wrong in taking corporate support in heritage maintenance. In 2013, a parliamentary panel strongly recommended the inclusion of ‘heritage and culture’ as a CSR (corporate social responsibility) activity. Earlier, the support came from public sector undertakings, but of late private companies also joined conservation efforts. For instance, Yes Bank organized heritage walks and cycle rides at Delhi’s heritage sites such as Lodhi Gardens, Purana Qila, Humayun’s Tomb, Qutub Minar and Hauz Khas as a part of their CSR activities last year. However, the central government and the ASI have to make sure that they have a lease agreement that does not allow the corporate to take over the site. In Goa, the company that has been given the Tiracol Fort on lease for its commercial activities, has virtually occupied the entire fort area and barred the best view of the river to ordinary tourists. The central government must not allow the private companies to privatise and declare the unwritten ownership of the heritage site under the guise of adopting it.