What Does Dalmia Bharat Group’s Adoption of the Red Fort Entail?

On 10 May, various groups, including AISA and ANHAD, marched to the Red Fort to protest against the adoption ‘deal.’

4 min read
The Mughal-era Red Fort in New Delhi. 

Ever since it came to light that the Dalmia Bharat Group has ‘adopted’ the Red Fort in New Delhi for five years under the government’s ‘Adopt a Heritage’ scheme, the move has faced significant criticism, with detractors terming it as “commercialisation” of a national heritage monument.

On Thursday, 10 May, various groups – including the AISA, Aman Biradari and the ANHAD – came together to march from Rajghat to Red Fort to protest against the deal, which was signed as a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the Dalmia Bharat Limited, the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Culture, and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in early April.

Many of the protesters indicated that the deal can be placed within the larger context of the Modi government’s antipathy towards historical heritage, as they questioned the Dalmia Bharat Group’s capability in terms of managing a historical site.


The conglomerate reportedly won the Rs 25-crore deal over IndiGo airlines and GMR Group’s bid to become the first corporate house to adopt a historical monument in India, reported Business Standard.

The Dalmia group’s adoption of the iconic Red Fort is a “wonderful move to preserve, beautify and modify our heritage,” Tourism Minister KJ Alphons had told Times Now.

But what exactly does the deal mean? Is the Red Fort actually being ‘handed over’ to the Dalmia Bharat group as is being projected by some? Let’s take a closer look at the deal to find an answer to these questions.

What Does the ‘Deal’ Entail?

The ‘Adopt a Heritage’ scheme was launched by the Centre in September 2017, with the aim to allow private and public sector corporations to bid and adopt India’s top heritage sites. Till now, four tourist place have already been adopted and at least 89 other Archaeological Survey of India ticketed monuments are being offered for 'adoption', with plans to expand the project further to other historical sites.

Now, according to the project website, the winner of a bid – or a ‘Monument Mitra’ – would take care of basic and advanced amenities of the tourist destinations in question.

So, for instance, with the Red Fort deal, the Dalmia Bharat Group would need to ensure the provision for toilets, drinking water, proper signage, among other things, at the monument site. Apart from this, there are also various semi-commercial activities that the group would need to take care of, including exhibitions, gift shops, cafeterias and specially guided tours.

For taking care of the various facilities and services, what the Dalmia group would get in return would be increased visibility in terms of displaying the group's name on signage, souvenirs and banners during cultural events, albeit "in a discreet manner and tastefully,” as the memorandum states.


The Pros and the Cons

As a Scroll article points out, making the Dalmia group in charge of some of the amenities can be problematic. For instance, handling things like lighting, cleanliness and landscaping in a historical monument would require a specialised approach so as not to end up damaging the vulnerable structures.

However, considering that the Dalmia group doesn't have a track record in terms of maintaining historical monuments, concerns have been raised by several conservationists in this regard.

Moreover, among the advanced amenities entrusted to the Dalmia group are developing an "app for augmented reality interpretation” and running tourist facilitation and interpretation centres. In light of this, the Indian History Congress has raised concerns that "in order to attract tourist traffic," the company "may propagate false or unproven interpretations of particular structures in the complex.”

Nevertheless, while many historians and politicians have severely criticised the deal, likening it to a commercial 'handover,’ AGK Menon, the founding member of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), has clarified that "the project has nothing to do with conservation of the building."

The project has nothing to do with conservation of the building. The heritage building has not been handed over to Dalmia for conservation work. What has been done is that they have been given the scope to do services, things like landscaping, toilets, canteens, etc.
AGK Menon to TheWire

It has also been pointed out that despite the deal, all the activities being carried out by the Dalmia Bharat Group would still be under the supervision of the ASI, which will continue to act as the final approving authority.

Moreover, the government has the right to terminate the agreement if the company does not comply with the guidelines of the Archaeological Survey of India, according to Business Standard.

Red Fort Now, What Next?: Congress Slams Move

In the meantime, the deal witnessed its fair share of political controversy, with various Opposition parties jumping the bandwagon to unequivocally condemn it as soon as it was announced.

The Congress, on 28 April, had slammed the Modi government’s move to allow a private corporation to adopt a heritage building.

CPI(M) leader Brinda Karat told Times Now that the government’s move was “extremely wrong.”

This is extremely wrong; these are not just monuments but symbols of the freedom struggle.
Brinda Karat to Times Now

She further said that a parliamentary standing committee had discussed this proposal several years ago and shelved the idea as it was decided that “although funds were needed, at no cost could the heritage sites be handed over to private corporations.”

CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury tweeted:

Trinamool Congress head and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee too hit out at the government, calling it a “sad and dark day in history.”

Senior party leader Derek O’Brien had pointed out that the matter was still being discussed at the parliament committee when the deal was announced.

In the meantime, Union Minister of Culture Mahesh Sharma defended the scheme, saying that it was announced by the President to encourage value addition to services in the monuments. “No profit activity would take place,” he asserted.


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