Explainer: Red Fort still belongs to Indians, Dalmia is just a “Monument Mitra”

Despite making room for arguments against the adoption, we need to ask ourselves, what is a viable alternative to protect our heritage?

By Prarthana Mitra

Following the Indian government’s announcement of a Memorandum of Understanding between a conglomerate and the Ministry of Tourism about the upkeep of the Red Fort, there has been an outcry among the public about the “sale of monuments” many of whom do not understand the state of cultural affairs and the condition of historic monuments in our country.

While citizens took to Facebook and Twitter to complain about the decision the fact that our monuments are in desperate need of maintenance and upkeep remains unchanged. The Red Fort controversy has shown that citizens are unsure about what can or should be done in the face of “monumental” decadence.

Here’s what happened

The government’s announced a Memorandum of Understanding between the Dalmia Bharat Limited and the Ministry of Tourism on April 25, whereby, the restoration of the Red Fort was handed over to the conglomerate. However, following the news, there has been an outcry on Twitter and Facebook over the “sale of the Lal Qilla.”

Under the collaborative project titled “Adopt a Heritage: Apni Dharohar, Apni Pehchaan“, the Tourism Ministry along with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and Indian states and union territories launched a movement to develop “synergy” among all partners to effectively promote ‘responsible tourism’. To that effct, Dalmia Bharat joined the list of 31 other private sector companies who call themselves Monument Mitras, to provide basic amenities like clean pathways, washrooms, drinking water, ease of access for the differently-abled and the senior citizens among domestic and foreign tourists, across 95 shortlisted monuments and tourism sites.

The corporation will undertake conservation of the 17th-century monument for a period of five years, focusing primarily on its operation and maintenance with a cumulative budget of over Rs 25 crore.

Why you should care

The lease made out to Dalmia Group is one of maintenance and the controversy over whether the government has “sold” or “auctioned” the Lal Qilla off is compounded because of the Centre’s lack of transparency about the financial details of the project.  Although the company has confirmed that it would not charge any “collection fee or convenience fee” from the general public, there is a lack of clarity about whether the entry fee or tourist’s fee will be disbursed into the Ministry of Culture’s account or if some of it will be siphoned off to the corporation.

While such projects are common in Europe, as pointed out by Shekhar Gupta of The Print. The Colosseum and Trevi Fountain in Italy were restored and maintained by the country’s celebrated footwear and furniture brands. The Red Fort had been built by a retinue of British architects, and the expertise of the Dalmia Group to conserve and develop such a monument is questionable, says author Rana Safvi in her interview to The Wire.

At this critical juncture, the only question that remains is how else can we ensure that our monuments survive the onslaught of negligence and time. Gupta rues that too many in the complaining elites haven’t been to their monuments lately, or they would have known the mess the ASI has made of them. The ones who have, are contributing to the ruin as we speak, which holds us as culpable for this dramatic culmination of events. “Open defecation may have been stopped elsewhere but most monuments, including Hampi and Mamallapuram, are open-air toilets. Their walls have love-notes scribbled, sometimes with a knife,” he complains.

If the government does not want to have a direct part to play in it, outsourcing it to those who can is the only option we have left.