A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between Dalmia Bharat Limited, Ministry of Tourism, Ministry of Culture and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) on April 9, even though the Ministry of Tourism went public with the deal on April 25, 2018. This was part of the Modi administration’s plan to allow corporate control of some monuments and heritage sites, so that their maintenance and operations could be handled more professionally. Under the contract, the Dalmia Bharat group will be tasked with carrying out a major facelift of the Red Fort’s surroundings under deadlines that range from a few months to over two years.
There are two tasks that have to be completed before PM Modi’s Independence Day speech. The front lighting, which involves “façade lighting and structure illumination”, will have to be completed by July. The illumination for the rest of the structure has to be completed within two years. Secondly, the Dalmia Bharat group will have to put up art installations for the Independence Day event every year. It is not clear if this will be done in the current year as well.
Under the contract, the Dalmia Bharat group will have to provide certain basic amenities within six months. These include providing drinking water kiosks, street furniture-like benches and shop signage. Then there are tasks that have to be completed within a year. These include putting up tactile maps, upgrading toilets, lighting up the Red Fort pathways and bollards, restoration work and landscaping, building a 1,000-square-foot visitor facility centre, 3-D projection mapping of the Red Fort’s interior and exterior, battery-operated vehicles and charging stations for such vehicles and a thematic cafeteria.
Tasks that need to be completed within two years include setting up exhibitions in cells under the Asad Burj, virtual reality-based monument interpretation, building night trails and structural illumination of the entire Red Fort. There are certain basic amenities that have to be provided within two years. These include installing turnstiles at check points, fencing with sliding doors and tactile paving (which Dalmia officials claim is a surprisingly expensive job.)
The Dalmia Bharat group will charge people visiting the Red Fort after getting specific clearances from the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Tourism. Any revenue generated through the activities planned by the corporate house would also have to be ploughed back into the Fort's development and maintenance. The Dalmia Bharat Group would be allowed to charge visitors for semi-commercial activities that it plans to conduct. The “reasonability of the rates charged for the services” would be determined by a joint committee headed by representatives of the Archaeological Survey of India, Ministry of Culture and the Dalmia Bharat Group. All revenues generated from these “semi-commercial activities” would need to be deposited in a separate bank account that would be used only for developing and maintaining the monument.
Overseeing all these activities would be three committees of which one, called the ‘Monument Committee’, will assist in implementing the facelift of the Red Fort and its operations and maintenance. The ‘Monument Committee’ will consist of the two bureaucrats, a superintending archaeologist, a member of the Dalmia Bharat Group and the project management consultant.
Two aspects of the Red Fort’s adoption deal stand out from all other aspects. Firstly, the government has promised the Dalmia Bharat Group that it would be held “harmless” in case the Archaeological Survey of India and others like Delhi’s district collector decide to pursue any claims related to the work done on the monument. While the indemnity clause may help against pressure tactics and frivolous activism of the ‘culture brigade’, it also gives creative freedom for transforming the Red Fort. Secondly, the contract also allows prominent visibility to the Dalmia brand. The group would be able to use the ‘Dalmia’ brand name on souvenirs, banners during cultural events and all signage that it would install across Red Fort’s precincts. A sign would also be deployed at the historical structure that shows that it has been adopted by Dalmia Bharat Limited. This would have to be done “in a discreet manner and tastefully.” The size and design of such a sign associating the Dalmia Bharat brand with Red Fort would have to be approved by the ASI before it is put up on the 17th century monument or its precincts. A Ministry of Tourism official said Dalmia’s adoption of Red Fort “was an important first step and that there were many more monuments and heritage places that need to be managed by private entities as they come on board as Monument Mitras (friends)”
Under the ‘Adopt A Heritage’ scheme launched by the Indian government in September 2017, almost a 100 monuments and heritage sites across India have been put up for adoption. These include the Taj Mahal in Uttar Pradesh, Kangra Fort in Himachal Pradesh, Buddhist Kaneri caves in Mumbai, among others. Sites not maintained by the ASI, such as Chitkool village in Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh, Thembang in Arunachal Pradesh and the Sati Ghat at Haridwar, Uttarakhand have been also put up for adoption. While the Dalmia group has bagged Red Fort along with Gandikota Fort in Andhra Pradesh, it is also said to be in the final stages of bagging the contract for the Sun Temple in Konark. Meanwhile, GMR Sports and ITC are the finalists in the race to adopt the Taj Mahal.