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Prasoon S Majumdar
Editor, Economic Affairs - The Sunday Indian
Dean Academics (All India), The Indian Institute of Planning and Management

SMS 'TAJ' to 4567

Mere voting will not save India's heritage... proactivity might

Circa 2007, when the Taj Mahal was at the threat of being de-listed from the new Seven Wonders of the World list, millions of Indians showed their inclination towards the Indian culture by voting for the Taj and thus made sure that the Taj stays in that list. However, the hullabaloo faded away in few months and the same Indians got back to their usual practice of defacing and damaging national heritages across the nation. Recently, the whole issue seems to have resurfaced after the damages caused to Amber Fort during a movie shooting came to limelight. But then is this really a rare phenomenon? Don’t we damage these majestic creations regularly and make it impossible for them to enter any such esteem list in future? Talking about the nitty-gritty of the matter, when it comes to palpable appreciation of our so-called national historical monuments, we seem to portray a very laid-back attitude. It is not that for the first time that media has reported such incidences. The evidence of this is the forts around Humayun’s Tomb, the walled city of Ahmedabad and the innumerable fortresses in ruins in the state of Rajasthan.

To counter such damages, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) along with state governments and Ministry of Tourism has tried to implement the much-practiced Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) model. Around 69 historical buildings, spread across the state of Rajasthan have been adopted under the PPP scheme. Jaisalmer Fort recently got its new paving lanes, toilets and sewerage systems, thanks to the agencies from UK. Similarly, the Getty Foundation manages Nagore fort. Walking on the same lines, Karnataka protected around 25 monuments through PPP with the Dharmothana Trust. Some PPP models have not only restored the monuments but also made them some of the best in the country. Take for instance, Apeejay Surendra Park Hotels that is maintaining Jantar Mantar or Neemrana hotels that gave a new face to many forts in Rajasthan or the IOC which has decided to take care of numerous forts of the country. But even then there are thousands of monuments listed by ASI that are still lamenting for takers.

The problem does not end here; ASI also suffers from dearth of funds. ASI is allotted just Rs 300 crore to manage 3,600 monuments which calculates down to just Rs 8.5 lakh per monuments. To worsen the situation, a large chunk of this money is engulfed by sites like the Taj and thus nothing much is left for other monuments. In countries like Scotland, more than half of the national heritages are maintained by private companies. National heritages like Eiffel tower, The Yellowstone Ecosystem, Victoria Falls, The Tower of London, Blenheim Palace, to name a few, are all maintained by private companies. These companies have improved the economics and beauty through thematic restaurants and adornment thereby increasing the tourists’ footfall without compromising with the original creation. Contrast this with India, where half of the monuments have been converted into restaurants, hotels and shopping complex. It sometimes gets impossible to even relate them to original construction.

A successful PPP model should not be just revenue centric but should have more creative approach. What we need to understand is that these standing monuments just not echoes the tales of country’s rich heritage but are also few of those tangible elements when it comes to experiencing a culture at large... Otherwise even SMSing 'TAJ' to 4567 will be of no use... the decay would continue.


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