Heritage conservation gets a boost, GMR group, ITC vie to ‘adopt’ the iconic Taj

In a major development, Taj Mahal, India’s iconic tourism asset, is up for grabs for adoption under Union government’s ‘Adopt a Heritage Scheme’. The scheme was envisaged with a mandate of adoption of heritage structures across the country by private sector and state-owned companies, and going by media reports doing the rounds, ITC Limited and a company which is part of the GMR group have expressed their interest for the same. The fund for upkeep of the monument will be borne from the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) fund of the company – as per Indian laws, Indian companies are obligated to spend two percent of their profit for CSR activities. Rightfully, the monument will remain under the authority of Archaeological survey of India (ASI).

Once the bidder is shortlisted, they would need to present a letter of intent showcasing their vision for maintaining the site. The decision of awarding the heritage site will rest on a seven-member Oversight and Vision committee chaired by Secretary tourism and involving senior officials of ASI, tourism and culture ministries.

Tourism Minister KJ Alphons had recently shared with the Parliament that letters of Intent had been issued to 24 agencies for the Submission of Vision Bids for 75 sites, other than Taj Mahal. “Two expressions of interest have been received for the Taj. However, no decision has been taken yet,” he had said. Explaining the details of modus operandi, he shared that the main structure was to remain with the ASI and the selected corporate entity were to provide basic amenities, cleanliness, public conveniences, ease of access, “besides advanced amenities such as cafeteria and surveillance system,”.

Taking stock of the development, the industry has long advocated undertaking the PPP model for conservation of heritage. Involving private sector and state-owned companies is expected to align stakeholders for a common cause. Also, given India massive repository of heritage structures, and availability of limited funds with ASI – it has a budgetary allocation of 974 crores, translating roughly to 150 million USD for 2018-19– it is imperative to look at alternate means of heritage conservation. India’s heritage is its central pillar, the most important asset for positioning India as a unique destination. While we may yet be able to attract tourists to our heritage sites because of their grandeur, a seamless and world-class tourist experience is still a long way away. Going by that count, it is a step in the right direction.

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