ASI must maintain monuments

The Centre's decision to entrust the upkeep and maintenance of 22 historical monuments, including the iconic Red Fort, to private companies is wrong and unwise. The letters of intent for this have already been issued to nine companies, and the Dalmia Bharat group has got the contract for the Red Fort. The plan is being implemented under the “Adopt a Heritage" programme which proposes to allow private companies and even individuals to develop tourism infrastructure and other amenities on historical and archaeological sites. As many as 93 monuments will be covered under the programme in the beginning and it is expected to be extended to more sites later. This is being presented as a Public Private Partnership (PPP) project and an area where companies can promote a national objective through the exercise of Corporate Social Responsibility. The return for them is publicity and brand promotion.

The conservation of historical monuments of the country is the government's responsibility and it should not be outsourced to private parties. National aims and private interests do not agree in such matters and there is always the possibility of private interests prevailing in the end. In the Red Fort case, it is claimed that the private company will be allowed to develop facilities only in some areas and no activity will be allowed in the "core areas". But it will be difficult to oversee the activities of private companies in the sites under their care. Companies will be driven only by the profit motive and they will be oblivious to the historical and cultural value and importance of the monuments. The possibility of disappearance of items or damage to and disfigurement of monuments cannot be ruled out.

The "Adopt a Heritage" programme came to the fore because of the failure of the government to preserve the country’s historical monuments. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), tasked with protecting national heritage structures, has failed in its task because of several reasons, including inefficiency. Governments have failed to allocate sufficient funds for the purpose. There are about 4,000 ASI-protected monuments in the country. There have been even instances of the ASI not knowing about the disappearance of some of them. So the idea of supervision of the private companies’ activities may not actually work. It is surprising that the BJP government which claims to set great store by the country’s long and glorious past is implementing this ill-conceived idea. It should allocate sufficient funds for conservation activities and strengthen the ASI and make it function, instead of handing over the monuments to private entities.

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