Need of the Hour: Wise Conservation of India’s Wealthby Opinion Express May 3, 2018 0 comments
Although we take a lot of pride in our wealth, we have to conserve our treasure troves together, wisely.
Heritage preservation is a participatory process that encourages social cohesion, endows us with a sense of national identity and makes us a collective stakeholder in its continuity. The greater our commitment to its well-being and maintenance, the greater its value in the public mind. It is in this context that one should assess the Government’s MoU with a corporate group for maintaining the Red Fort area and improving basic infrastructure, including toilet facilities, sit outs and refreshment areas for visitors at a world heritage site. Of course, the Red Fort has an iconic significance, considering our first of war of independence began here and since then has been used by Prime Ministers to address the nation. Clearly, it is asinine to assume that any Indian would tamper with that legacy frivolously when entrusted with its upkeep. And with the cash-strapped ASI unable to maintain the integrity of the Taj Mahal, admitting its inability to take care of green and brown stains on the marble structure, the Supreme Court has seen red. The top court has strongly ordered that international experts be hired to save our best wonder. That could mean roping in the best through PPPs. Clearly, a lot of companies with environmental management and sustainable modules could be used to seed the green belt around the Taj trapezium.
The experiment of roping in private players and resources in heritage management is neither a global, Indian or a Delhi first. Countries around the Mediterranean have sought resource and management sharing with private majors like fashion houses and soft drink conglomerates. Varanasi’s ghats have been cleaned up and made presentable without tarnishing their cultural essence and ancient feel by private hotel chains. Delhi’s citizens have found summer evenings pleasurable again with the restoration of the Humayun’s tomb complex and the Sunder Nursery by the Aga Khan Trust. Both these sites have not only restored Mughal architecture and gardens to their pristine glory but encouraged soirees, cultural confluences and most importantly, revived the city’s biodiversity hotspots. Many private players have converted Delhi’s havelis into a living heritage. Museum trusts around the world seek voluntary participation by experts and the community alike, vetting and choosing verifiable stakeholders. And though critics may claim that corporates were encashing the footfalls while doing CSR and were not altruistic, fact is that signages, booklets or hoardings proclaiming their contribution have been limited to areas outside the core heritage arc. Wherever they have intruded, like Coca Cola in Italy, they have been roundly taken down. Would any corporate stake its branding on blatantly stupid moves? The privately run, family-owned Rajasthan forts have boosted the tourist economy and generated more resources for upkeep through specially curated walks and inner chamber access. PPP ventures have resulted in rescuing lost gems like the Nahargarh fort. First, the contract is for basic infrastructure and not repairing the facade, which sensitively has to be monitored and implemented by an expert committee under the supervision of the ASI. Imagine a cleaned up Meena Bazaar elevated to the status of the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul and fostering community engagement. Second, the waiver of an indemnity clause is being interpreted as being equivalent to creative freedom. While the government tackles the criticisms, it should take care that its actions are above clarification. It is not about one contract, it is about laying down a uniform heritage conservation policy that has to be a multiple representation of historians, conservationists, archaeologists and keeper family trusts. Heritage management cannot be a regular
Courtesy: The Pioneer