Saturday, May 26, 2018

UNESCO heritage on sale!

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One of the largest conglomerate group the 77-year old-group Dalmia Bharat group  created a record to buy a historical monument on contract for a period of five years for IRS25 crore .

The historical monumental is none other than the the "Red Fort" in old Delhi, which in Urdu translation is L?l Qila arising from its red-sandstone walls. The fort was originally known as the "Blessed Fort" (Qila-i-Mub?rak).

This deal was done under 'Adopt A Heritage' scheme The 'Adopt a Heritage' scheme was launched by the President on World Tourism Day on September 27, 2017. Under it, private and public sector companies and corporate individuals were invited to adopt heritage sites and to take up responsibility for making them more accessible while also promoting sustainable tourism through conservation and development as their 'corporate social responsibility'.

 A memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed between Dalmia Bharat Limited, Ministry of Tourism, Ministry of Culture and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) on April 9, even though the Ministry of Tourism went public with the deal on April 25, 2018.

Under the contract, the Dalmia Bharat group will have to provide certain basic amenities within six months. These include providing drinking water kiosks, street furniture-like benches and shop signage. Then there are tasks that have to be completed within a year.

These include putting up tactile maps, upgrading toilets, lighting up the Red Fort pathways and bollards, restoration work and landscaping, building a 1,000-square-foot visitor facility centre, 3-D projection mapping of the Red Fort's interior and exterior, battery-operated vehicles and charging stations for such vehicles and a thematic cafeteria.

 It also plans to use the Red Fort for various events such as music concerts and other cultural activities to promote greater tourist interest in the monument. Virtually 100 monuments and heritage sites across India have been put up for adoption besides Taj Mahal

 Taj Mahal was the main residence of the emperors of the Mughal dynasty for nearly 200 years, until 1856.  It was constructed in 1639 by the fifth Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. Emperor Shah Jahan commissioned the construction of the Red Fort on 12 May 1639, when he decided to shift his capital from Agra to Delhi.

The fort lies along the Yamuna River, which fed the moats surrounding most of the walls.It was completed on 6 April 1648.It was here in Red Fort that the last Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan on trial before exiling him to Rangoon in 1858.

 The Red Fort continued to be used as an administrative center during Britsh Rule. On 15 August 1947, India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, raised the Indian flag on the fort, signifying an independent India. The Red Fort Complex is one of the cultural UNESCO World Heritage Sites#300 in India.

This military fortification site was inscribed into the UNESCO list in 2007. This cultural UNESCO site is of cultural significance to India because it is symbolic of how the Mughal architecture flourished. At the same time, the complex is the best example of how the Islamic, Persian, Hindu, and Timurid traditions are combined as one.

The Dalmia Bharat group will charge people visiting the Red Fort after getting specific clearances from the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Tourism. Any revenue generated through the activities planned by the corporate house would also have to be ploughed back into the Fort's development and maintenance but nothing has been mentioned of the surplus left? Certainly, Dalmia group is not investing such an enormous amount without considering its benefit.

Critics claim India's heritage scheme means Taj Mahal privatization but a future step of destroying the archaeological history and damaging tourism and mauling the ambience and beauty of Taj Mahal but with such digital modification the ambience will also be lost. Will our Red Fort be called The Dalmia Bharat Red Fort? Says the Indians.

Indian people are upset over Red Fort reacted to this, after this news was announced, not just the Congress party, several other prominent personalities across India, as well as Twitterati in general, social media was abuzz with messages that the iconic Red Fort had been sold. I quote some Twitter expressing their grievances

1)  William Dalrymple
There must be better ways of maintaining a nation's greatest monuments than by auctioning them off to a corporate house

2) William Dalrymple

There's a huge difference between Dalmia adopting, say, a haveli in Old Dilli and adopting the Red Fort itself. Tier 1 monuments are a nation's crown jewels. They should not be played around with. It's even more worrying that corporates cannot be held responsible for any damage.

The Seattle Times published  October 18, 2017, Yogi Adityanath, the controversial head monk of a famed Hindu temple who is now the top elected official of Uttar Pradesh state, where the Taj Mahal is located, said foreign dignitaries visiting his state should be gifted a copy of the Hindu religious book "Bhagvad Gita" instead of replicas of the Taj Mahal.

This isn't the first time that India's Islamic past has come under attack by members of the BJP or smaller Hindu groups. Som, the lawmaker who called the Taj Mahal a "blot" on Monday, went on to address criticism that the government had kept the iconic monument out of its tourism brochure.

The writer is a tea planter, columnist, researcher and copytaster            --------Billy I Ahmed

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