Red Fort 'adoption': Why tourism minister needs to get his facts right
Despite being a former IAS officer, KJ Alphons seems woefully short on facts.
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There is only one response to every side that is involved in this noisy but pointless debate on "Indian heritage for sale". Alexander Pope's well-known quote: ''A little learning is a dangerous thing/Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring/There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain/and drinking largely sobers us again.”
One cannot really blame KJ Alphons for not knowing the history of his ministry. Despite being a former IAS officer, he seems woefully short on facts, and was most recently quoted as saying, "Indians have no problem stripping naked when applying for visa, but complain of privacy intrusion when the government asks for their personal details."
The white man's bogey seems to be a particularly favourite theme of his, no doubt to please his minister Mahesh Sharma, who seems rather partial to the Sangh Parivar. So how does he counter criticism of the Monument Mitra scheme under which Dalmia Bharat Group has adopted the Red Fort?
Not by telling the truth: which is the Adopt a Heritage scheme is the same as the National Culture Fund with more branding being allowed to corporates.
No, instead he raises the "foreign hand" bogey. He is quoted in The Pioneer as saying: "The UPA government led by it had itself gone ahead to hand over the restoration and maintenance task of at least five monuments to a foreign agency, that is, the Aga Khan Trust."
The story goes on to say: "Under its (UPA’s) National Culture Fund, the then government had reached out to many corporate for preservation and conservation of heritage monuments,” and Alphons said that "While under the NCF, the UPA had doled out money to the agencies like Aga Khan Trust, in our scheme it is the corporates which is putting in money for its maintenance.''
Those three statements are wrong on so many levels. Here's how:
1) The National Culture Fund (NCF) was set up under the Ministry of Culture in 1996, at the initiative of HRD minister, the late SR Bommai, and culture secretary BP Singh, during the United Front government.
There was no sign of UPA or Congress then. All Mr Alphons needs to do is either speak to Mr Singh who now lives a retired life in Delhi, or read the second edition of his book, India's Culture: The State, The Arts and Beyond.
2) The MoU between NCF and ASI and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture was initially for the garden restoration of Humayun's Tomb. It was signed in 1999, when the BJP was in power. Yes, the BJP.
3) The MoU did not involve "doling out money" to the trust. The trust invested its own money initially and then raised money from other organisations such as Tata Trusts and The Oberoi Group. The project, completed in 2013, in collaboration with the ASI, has seen the complete revival of Humayun's Tomb, and a number of adjoining monuments such as Nila Gumbad, Isa Khan's garden tomb, Bu Halima's garden tomb, Arab Serai gateways, Sunderawala Mahal and Burj, Batashewala group of monuments, Chausath Khamba and Hazrat Nizamuddin Baoli.
The Aga Khan Trust for Culture does not need any tax breaks in India, since it is not a "corporate", its follow-up MoU in 2007 to conserve Humayun’s mausoleum and 50 other sites has been with the ASI itself.
It works at the pleasure of the ASI and under its constant monitoring. It has to get everything approved in writing and a lot of research and documentation goes into that. It has received grants from the Ministry of Tourism for some work but otherwise has spent its own money as a grant, without any possibility for recovery of funds.
4) As part of its work around Humayun's Tomb, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture also restored the adjoining 90-acre park inspired by Mughal Garden traditions. Created by landscape architect M Shaheer, the garden includes a 600-metre "paradise carpet garden", a 30-acre micro-habitat zone with provisions for birds, an amphitheatre for cultural events and 20 acres of nursery beds that the Central Public Works Department regularly uses.
This is called Sunder Nursery, yes the very same one where Prime Minister Narendra Modi took German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier for a much publicised walk in March. If this is a foreign agency, it is one sanctified by no less than Prime Minister Modi.
5) The NCF existed and continues to exist to attract corporate funding for restoration of monuments. The list of projects under it is long and if Mr Alphons cares to read it, he can see how much money has been spent by organisations.
Among several corporations, the NTPC will spend Rs 5 crore for five years and the ONGC will spend Rs 2 crore for five years.