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Red Fort adoption in trouble as bureaucratic battles stall work

Red Fort. Photo: Wikipedia Commons
More than two months after a formal Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was inked for the adoption of Delhi’s iconic Red Fort by the Dalmia Bharat group, things seem to have reached a tense standoff between the corporate group and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). 

It is reliably learnt that no work as specified under the MoU has yet begun on and around the Red Fort’s precincts. The ASI, which functions under India’s Ministry of Culture is pressing forward with work on the monument on its own in the run-up to Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi’s last Independence Day speech of his current tenure. It has started work on completing a part of the structural lighting and night illumination, which the Dalmia Bharat group had initially planned to undertake before handing it over to security agencies before August 15.

"We are undertaking various works at the Red Fort. Specifically regarding the Independence Day speech, we are doing cleaning of the walls, any structural repairs and any painting job that has to be done. In addition we are doing what security agencies, the Ministry of Home Affairs and others want specifically relating to the Independence Day speech. Any other work is being handled by the Central Public Works Department (CPWD). We are looking at structural and night illumination also before August 15," said D N Dimri, Director, ASI.

There seem to be two critical points of conflict between the Dalmia Bharat group and ASI. “We have not received any work proposal yet from the Dalmia Bharat group," said Dimri. Sources said that Dalmia Bharat had submitted the comprehensive work proposal on May 31 which has been received by the ASI but is yet to be approved by them. Business Standard tried reaching out to Usha Sharma, Director General of ASI but was told she was on leave till July 5.

Secondly, the work proposal seems to have been entwined in a heady maze of bureaucratic parlance and contractual semantics. “The MoU is not yet in force and all work at the Red Fort is being done by the ASI,” said Dimri.

Interestingly representatives of the ASI and Ministry of Culture were not present during the formal signing ceremony of the MoU in April. This effectively means that only the Ministry of Tourism, which is overseeing the ‘Adopt A Heritage’ scheme and Dalmia Bharat Limited were present during the signing ceremony. Sources said not just has the comprehensive work plan been received by the ASI, it was also wrong to assert that the MoU hasn’t yet come into force.

With the ASI and the Ministry of Culture in no hurry to let Dalmia Bharat group start work, this could mean further trouble. That’s because none of the work can begin unless the committees which have been constituted give the go-ahead for Dalmia Bharat’s work plan. Of the three committees envisaged under the MoU, the most critical will be the ‘Monument Committee’. This five-member committee is chaired by a Ministry of Tourism official (Director of Travel and Trade) and has a representative of the Dalmia Bharat group as a member. The ASI’s sole representation in this committee is that of a member represented by a superintending archaeologist. The convenor of the committee is the Director General of the Adopt a Heritage scheme, invariably a secretary-level officer from the Ministry of Tourism. A project management consultant meanwhile is part of this group to assist them in implementation, what makes this five-member group critical is that they have to provide th no-objection certificate for any work or so-called ‘planned interventions’ that will be undertaken at the Red Fort. In addition, the Dalmia Bharat group will be assisted in implementing its planned works at the Red Fort by this committee. It is unclear whether the committee’s decisions will be taken unanimously or overt reliance and possibly veto powers would vest with the superintending archaeologist.

An equally crucial body involved in the Red Fort’s transformation is the five-member ‘Implementation Committee’ which is again chaired by a tourism ministry official (Additional Director General). Unlike the Monument Committee, this does not have a representative of the Dalmia Bharat group as a member. It has the Joint Secretary of Ministry of Culture and an Additional Director General of the ASI as members. The chairperson of the ‘Monument Committee’ is the convenor of the ‘Implementation Committee.’ One of the most critical functions of this committee is to “guide Dalmia Bharat Limited in getting necessary clearances, approvals and no-objection certificates.”  With half the committee comprising of ASI and Ministry of Culture officials currently in a tense stand-off with the Dalmia Bharat group, there seems to be little reason to believe that these “clearances, assistance or no-objection certificates’ would materialise anytime soon.

Business Standard tried reaching out to the Ministry of Tourism but could not get a response till the time of publication. Their response will be included as and when received.

Even as the ASI digs its heels, Dalmia Bharat group has gone ahead and started spending money on hiring consultants and starting initial work like making signages that would be put up across the national capital directing people to the Red Fort. At present, there are no signages across Delhi that show people the way to the 17th-century monument.