New Delhi, May 2: Historians, conservationists and artists today spoke out against the maintenance of the Red Fort being "entrusted" to cement company Dalmia Bharat Group, which they said has no known credentials in the work of architectural preservation or heritage management.
While the Indian History Congress expressed its concern over the terms of the agreement between the Tourism Ministry and Dalmia Bharat on the 17th century Mughal era monument, built by Shahjahan and the centrepiece of India's Independence Day celebrations, a host of activists, academics and others banded under the cultural group SAHMAT to voice their worries. Historian Irfan Habib added that the new scheme was "flawed".
"First of all, if you had to implement this scheme to adopt heritage monuments, they should have experimented with a lesser known structure and not the iconic Red Fort.That is the basic flaw of the scheme," Habib told PTI.
"My worry is the kind of commentary through audio books and others that will be supplied to the tourists," Habib said, adding that the move was akin to "selling" it to a private player.
A statement from SAHMAT, signed by artist Vivan Sundaram, historian Mushirul Hasan and theatre activist M K Raina among others, brought up the demolition of the Babri Masjid to highlight its concerns and said the agreement must be rescinded.
"The present regime in power has an unsavoury past in regard to our heritage. It felt no compunction when its followers destroyed a 450 year old monument of architectural importance in 1992 just because it was a mosque.
"The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has long been propagating the cause of declaring all major medieval monuments, including the Taj Mahal and Delhi’s Red Fort as Hindu structures," it said.
The Indian History Congress (IHC), the largest body of professional Indian historians, expressed its worries over the terms of the agreement.
What was more troubling, it added in a statement, was that that the company has no claim to any experience in maintenance, conservation, preservation and interpretation of monuments.
"There is ample room to fear that in order to attract tourist traffic it may propagate false or unproven interpretations of particular structures in the complex. Once such claims are set afloat, especially when they are of a sectarian character, it is found extremely difficult to get rid of them," it said.
Heritage conservationist Sohail Hashmi questioned the logic behind the agreement to let the Dalmia Bharat Group commit a sum of Rs 5 crore annually for the upkeep of the Red Fort in return for branding, when the revenue from ticket sales itself could have generated more cash.
"For Rs 5 crore, the corporate is going to give clean toilets, tactile paths and one or two restaurants, and in exchange it will get to put signages on the Diwan-i-Aam, Mumtaz Mahal, Rang Mahal inside the Red Fort.
They will be able to do free publicity to close to 2.1 million people every day. They get to show they are fulfilling the corporate social responsibility and their names gets associated with a world heritage site," Hashmi told PTI.
He said the Red Fort got 24 lakh visitors in 2010, of which 1,40,000 were foreigners, which meant that it brought in revenues of Rs 10 crore from ticket sale alone.
"The question is not just about money but also about bartering the symbol of the country's unified struggle against the British. I see this step as part of a series of attacks to dismantle the symbols of resistance against the imperial forces," he said.