The signing of the maintenance agreement between Dalmia Bharat and Indian government for the upkeep of Red Fort is being criticized, for all the wrong reasons. Infact, adoption can be game-changer for our monuments nationwide.
Is the private sector less ‘national’ than the government? Is the PPP model a sell-out of national heritage? Has the government ceded control of its assets? None of this is true. Only the leasing of conveniences, upkeep and upgrading of facilities to ensure that our monuments can become world class experiences.
Everyone knows that governments are bound by rules and red-tapism. It is easier for the private sector to hire talent and international expertise. And when a leading corporate will put out its name plate as the custodian, it is putting out its prestige and corporate brand value. None will risk it. On the contrary, this is CSR fund best spent, in the full public glare, so much better than in so many cases where we will never know where they went!
In the case of the iconic Red Fort, a sum of INR 25 crores is coming to government as leasing value. This could help sustain numerous smaller entities. And this amount is only coming from leasing out one monument. And Red Fort will require additional monies towards upkeep and upgrades by the corporate entity directly. This will enlarge the fund basket, increase the size of the cake. It is also not just about funding but overall management. Just like everybody does not want governments to run businesses, so it should be true of managing our heritage.
This is PPP in the right direction and one that none should fear. We spoke with a former secretary tourism at the centre, Rathi Vinay Jha, for her comments:
“Unfortunately, and for mostly understandable reasons, the budget set apart for the monument upkeep is meagre. The Tourism Ministry probably wants to ensure that its world class attractions offer world class facilities, as we see in many developed countries. This is my guess! And for all this, funding is essential. So why not a PPP for managing such sites? BUT the terms and conditions must be very clear. The heritage monument cannot be just handed over. Roles and responsibilities must be very clearly laid out. So the essential point for us to understand is IF this has been done. Govt must still keep all the control. And the government must constantly monitor, review and ensure that “adoption” is to the positive advantage of the monument and in complete public interest”, she said.
Should the government have given out leases of iconic structures such as The Red Fort? Depends upon which way you view the prism. It is possibly best to start where we can make the difference. The Taj Mahal, for instance, had a plan prepared by the US National Park Service some thirty years ago, but nothing has happened. Nothing much has happened to The Red Fort in all these years. Funds available with ASI remain absurdly small. Such partnerships are mutually beneficial, in the national interest, only that the terms of reference must be most transparent, always. So that there are none or few dissenting voices.