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Red Fort row: MoU with Dalmia Bharat group attracts criticism but Centre's move has many global precedents

The Union government's Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Dalmia Bharat group for maintaining the Red Fort and to build basic infrastructure around it has drawn sharp criticism from various quarters. However, there are numerous global precedents of private players funding restoration and maintenance of heritage sites.

While some of these have been welcomed by the people for having improved the condition of the sites, some have faced criticism regarding failure to maintain the sanctity of the monument. Here are some prominent examples:

Italy:

In September 2016, the Spanish Steps in Rome were reopened as a tourist site to the public. The iconic steps, a site where several scenes from films and television sitcoms were picturised, had been damaged badly, with stone surfaces pockmarked with dark stains, and some steps slipping away, as per a report on ENCA.

A jewellery firm from Rome, Bulgari, paid for the renovation of the Spanish Steps, and the site was closed for a year, reported CBS News. According to the report, the company, which has a store across the street from the steps, spent as much as $1.5 million to repair them.

 Red Fort row: MoU with Dalmia Bharat group attracts criticism but Centres move has many global precedents

File image of Red Fort. Reuters

In Italy, the debt-ridden government has turned to private citizens and companies on a large scale for preserving their cultural heritage. As many as 20,000 private initiatives, where citizens are establishing heritage museums and paying for preserving heritage sites are in existence in the country, according to Spiegel Online.

In much the same way as the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain was also renovated by Italian luxury fashion brand Fendi at a cost of $2.4 million. The Trevi Fountain too was reopened to the public in November 2015 after being hidden behind scaffolding for several months, according to CNBC.

Egypt:

According to a report in Hindustan Times, a pilot project was launched in Egypt to improve the condition of buildings in Cairo's heritage areas. A bank from Kuwait was said to have provided $3 million to draw up maps of the country’s ancient sites.

A report in Gulf News says that real estate investment company Al-Ismailia has supported the restoration of Khedival Cairo, or the downtown section of the city. The restoration involves giving a facelift to buildings, preserving their ornaments and ensuring that streets are pedestrian-friendly.

Similarly, the country's Ministry of Antiquities announced recently that the renovation and maintenance of two tourist sites in old Cairo would be completed by a private company under the supervision of the ministry. The sites are the Prince Taz Palace and Sheikh Mohamed Al-Sadat House, according to a report in the Egypt Independent.

Controversial aspects

However, not all examples of private involvement in heritage monuments and other tourist attractions have ended successfully. A prominent example of this was the Doge's Palace in Venice, again in Italy, where a message by Coca-Cola was being broadcast: 'Coca-Cola uncorks happiness'. A report in the Telegraph quoted onlookers as saying, "Visitors come to this iconic city with an image of it in their mind’s eye and instead they see its famous views grotesquely defaced."

Ilaria Borletti Buitoni, the president of the Italian National Trust, said that the decision to cover the Doge's Palace with billboards was a "poor decision that should not be repeated anywhere else", according to a report in The New Republic.

Similar concerns have been raised with respect to the Dalmia Bharat group adopting the Red Fort. Some commentators have questioned whether the iconic monument will be known as the Dalmia Red Fort, such as this article in The Indian Express.

The MoU between the government and the company does specifically state that the MoU will not alter the legal status of the monument (Section 9). However, the indemnity clause, under which the government will not hold Dalmia group liable (will "hold harmless" the company, to be specific) against any claims arising from the work that the company does towards maintaining the monument.

According to an article in Business Standard, this provision gives "creative freedom" to transform the Red Fort and to give visibility to the Dalmia brand. This can include a sign at the structure saying that it has been adopted by the company.

While the government has responded to some of the concerns expressed by Opposition parties and citizens, questions remain over some aspects. What is clear, however, is that the concept of private involvement in maintaining or refurbishing heritage structures is not an entirely new one.

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Updated Date: May 02, 2018 11:06:30 IST