Wednesday, May 16, 2018

In defence of the 'Adopt a Heritage' scheme

File:Delhi, Red Fort (6258220875).jpg

The last few days have seen a huge uproar in the media and on social media regarding the Government of India (GoI)’s scheme to allow Corporate Houses to adopt Heritage sites both Cultural and Natural.

This is my attempt at defending the governments stand. At the onset let me lay down my cards, I am a trained archaeologist and teach archaeology at the University of Mumbai. I have also consulted with a company desiring to adopt some of the heritage that the Ministry of Culture would like adopted.

The huge hue and cry in the media has been that the GoI has given away these heritage structures to multi-national and mega corporate house since they are unable to take care of India’s Heritage, that this is a ‘saffronised’ plot to re-write history, that this is a blatant giving-up of responsibilities and that it is a slap in the face of tradition and history and an insult to all those people who lived, died and strove to make these monuments what they are.

The secondary allegations are against the Dalmia Groups credentials on Heritage Management and Conservation and also some unnecessary slander of a personal familial nature.

Let me start by asking all those concerned to take a deep breath and to sit back. Please peruse the documents related to the scheme. This scheme is a revamped version of an older scheme first proposed by the last government in power. At no point does the scheme give away the monument. The monument per se and its conservation continue to be in the very safe hands of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). No adopting agency can in any way interfere with this. Point two the adopting agency is responsible for cleanliness, security, sanitation, drinking water, ticketing, lighting, park furniture, disabled access, Wi-Fi, Audio Guides,  and a visitor’s centre. They may also be allowed to set up a food and beverage concession and a gift/souvenir shop. The ticket amount goes right into the coffers of the ASI. Any money generated by the adopter is put into a specific account and all profits have to be funneled right back into the monument adopted.

This will allow the ASI to concentrate on what it does best i.e. taking care of the Heritage aspect of the monument. It will also take a huge load off the ASI’s shoulders regarding the nitty-gritty of non-archaeological and non-conservational matters. It should be noted here that the landscaping will still be strictly in the hands of the ASI.

Shah Jahan's iconic Red Fort in Delhi is now Dalmia Bharat group's Red Fort said the Business Standard, this is a typically ‘click-bait’ type of headline with a terrible lack of any reading of what is actually happening and virtually zero due diligence. No it isn’t theirs and they haven’t ‘bought it for 5 years for 5 crores a year’. They have been allowed, note allowed, to adopt the monument and their yearly spend for the 5 year period is pegged at 25 crores i.e. 5 crores per annum.

Now should we debate this? Yes we should. It is our right to do so in a democracy and debating the pros and cons will only make our democracy and the scheme stronger. Should we go off shouting how horrible it is without looking into? No, that would be plain foolish.

Thus debating the Heritage credentials of the company doing any of the adopting is quite pointless, debating their management skills would be a good idea.

Why do I think it’s a good idea? The first reason is because our heritage desperately needs help. The second reason (this will hurt a few toes) is because the government and its agencies take loads of time to do things, they are cumbersome, have complicated cumbersome mechanisms and the smallest cog failing can result in months if not years of delays. The corporate world in that way is the antithesis and will get done what needs to be done when it needs to be done and in the most cost effective way possible. The comparison between the overworked suburban railway systems in Mumbai vis-à-vis the privately run metro is a glaring example of this.

Added to the above reasons is the fact that many an Indian Corporation does (contrary to public belief) care about the nation’s heritage and would love to give back a little something to it. Why are we hell bent on denying them these rights? They have the funds and are willing to use them under the very strict guidelines and supervision of the ASI and the responsible ministries. Give them a chance. The GoI has very clearly maintained that they can and will immediately pull the rug if the corporate sponsors don't follow meticulously the guidelines. Let’s be the pubic watchdogs and keep them in line!

And what about the heritage conservation skills of the adopters? Well they don’t need to have any, they have to take on an empanelled Conservation Architect and even after that the monument per se is completely off limits. Thus their experience in conservation of ‘built heritage’ isn’t even really a question.

What do the corporates get out of this? They get satisfaction, pride and bragging rights. They also get their logo on a board outside the monument, on one corner of the tickets and inside the toilets.

So let’s breathe a little easy and take stock of the situation and calmly proceed.

(Image from:,_Red_Fort_(6258220875).jpg)