How Monument Mitra can help conserve Red Fort? A heritage conservationist explains
They must be driven by an attitude of service to India and not by corporate branding.
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The new scheme launched by the tourism ministry which is currently causing uproar across the country needs a more balanced appraisal. At the outset, one must state that our heritage sites across India are woefully inadequately serviced. At Sanchi information kiosk, pamphlets are dog-eared and outdated while at Itimad ud Daulah a new integrated water system risks failure. Most of our World Heritage Sites have yet to put in place basics of site management, tourist facilities or interpretation centres. These are fundamental requirements which enhance the value of the monument and the visitor experience. The absence of this devalues our heritage.
It is well known that over the last 20 years, the National Culture Fund which was set up to do precisely what is proposed today has floundered. Its target objective was to raise funds from the corporate sector to support the work being undertaken by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). Many partners came forward, some with an agenda and others who saw this as a way to showcase their commitment to preserve India’s heritage. Almost all these partnerships failed. The earliest was the partnership with Tata group’s Indian Hotels Company Limited (IHCL), which committed Rs 14 crore in 2002 towards the upgradation of Taj Mahal.
Much like the Monument Mitra scheme, this was primarily to upgrade visitor facilities and provide a befitting experience for those visiting what is arguably India’s most iconic site, but it was soon mired in controversy and bogged down by the ASI itself.
Icon unmatched. Photo: PTI
What distinguished the partnership however is that the Tata group never sought corporate branding, they were and remain deeply committed philanthropists.
The Red Fort at the forefront of much of this controversy has also failed to be positioned as a premium destination more especially as it is the only continuously used symbol of government. A Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan available on ASI’s website is a selectively used tool; an NCF proposal to upgrade the barracks to develop a museum was still born; while access to the monument remains cumbersome and inept.
To safeguard our heritage for future generations, we need to move forward from knowing what not to do to ensuring we can get and deliver the best that is available. For the ASI, the time has come to ensure that our monuments are better showcased and sharing the responsibility is an idea which must come of age in India.
This new scheme to gather Monument Mitras — a different concept to “Adopt a Heritage”— is an opportunity to forge these partnerships. The scheme has provided for each site to have a conservation architect to design and develop the facilities, create a visitor information centre that is credible; and most importantly, toilets and drinking water. With huge pressures on the monuments and growing visitor numbers, it is simply no longer good enough to only preserve status quo which does little justice to the richness of our past.
However, what is of grave concern is what leverage the industry is going to demand. Clearly, there is major concern about unencumbered corporate giving. In my view, as long as this does not impact or feature on the monument or in its precinct, we should find a way forward.
Monument Mitras must be driven by an attitude of service to India and not by corporate branding as we have seen with the Delhi Metro stations (it serves their funding needs). Our monuments lack management skills but management is not about brand swashbuckling, it is hunkering down for the long haul of serving our nation’s heritage.
One can only hope India’s corporate sector will see this as genuine philanthropists.