Dalmia Bharat Limited, a 77-year-old group, has received a contract to maintain the Red Fort, one of India’s most prominent historical monuments, for a period of five years under the Indian government’s ‘Adopt a Heritage’ scheme. In old times, taking control of this fort was considered a symbolic control of the country. That a private company has ‘conquered’ the fort has generated a heated debate.

Red Fort Delhi at sunrise. A UNESCO World Heritage site

What is the contract?

India’s tourism ministry has handed over the maintenance responsibilities for the Red Fort to the Dalmia Bharat group after the corporate house entered into an agreement with the government.

  • “Dalmia Bharat Limited, Ministry of Tourism and Archaeological Survey of India sign MoU to take up the Red Fort, Delhi and Gandikota Fort, Kadapa. @DalmiaBharat Becomes the first corporate to sign a MOU under the Government’s “Adopt a Heritage” project,” the company tweeted.
  • In an attempt to increase public-private partnership in conservation and maintenance of heritage sites, the tourism ministry last year launched the ‘Adopt a Heritage’ scheme, inviting private and public sector companies to become ‘Monument Mitras’ (friends of monuments).
  • These ‘friends of monuments’ will adopt heritage sites, develop basic and advanced amenities at the monuments and look after their operation and maintenance. For their services, Monument Mitras will be “given visibility” on the monument premises as well as on the tourism ministry’s Incredible India website.
  • The Dalmia Bharat Group, under the memorandum of understanding, would maintain the 17th century monument and build basic infrastructure around it and has committed a sum of Rs 25 crore for the purpose over a period spanning five years. It beat IndiGo and the GMR group to win the contract. More than 90 monuments are up for ‘adoption’ under this government scheme.

“We have to start work within 30 days and have to own it for five years initially. Then the contract can be extended on mutually agreeable terms. It will help us integrate the Dalmia brand with India. This project will have customer centricity as the visitors will be our customers. We want more people from Delhi and NCR to come here regularly rather than just one-time tourists. Just look at some of the castles in Europe which are a fraction of the Red Fort’s size but are so meticulously maintained. We will develop the monument on similar lines and it will be among the world’s best,” Mahendra Singhi, an excited group CEO of Dalmia Bharat Cementm, told Business Standard.

  • Founded in 1935 by Jaidayal Dalmia, the Dalmia Bharat Group had established four cement plants in pre-Independence years, two of which were affected by the partition and independence. The group is headquartered in Delhi with operations spread across various sectors such as cement, sugar, travel, minerals, refractory products and electronics.
  • The company has plans to complete night illumination before handing it over temporarily to the government for the Prime Minister’s annual Independence Day address on August 15.

What is the Adopt a Heritage scheme?

  • “Adopt a heritage: Apni Dharohar, Apni Pehchaan” is a collaborative effort among the tourism ministry, culture ministry, Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), states and union territories. It aims to involve companies to take up the responsibility for making “our heritage and tourism more sustainable through development, operation, and maintenance of world class tourist infrastructure and amenities at ASI/state heritage sites and other important tourist sites in India.”
  • Monument mitras are picked through a ‘vision bidding’ process in which those with the best plan for the heritage sites are chosen.
  • The project primarily focuses on providing basic amenities that include cleanliness, toilets, drinking water, ease of access for differently abled and senior citizens, standardised signage, illumination and advanced amenities such as surveillance systems, night viewing facilities, tourism facilitation centres and an enhanced tourism experience.

Why is the decision controversial?

Opposition parties are questioning the government’s move to allow a private entity to maintain the iconic Red Fort. With the General Election less than a year, this is a good opportunity for these parties to flaunt patriotism, usually the forte of the ruling BJP.

  • The decision has been opposed by the Congress, the CPI(M) and the Trinamool Congress, which slammed the government for virtually handing over the symbol of India’s independence to a corporate entity.
  • “Prime Minister Narendra Modi is preparing to mortgage India’s symbol of independence, the Red Fort to corporates. Does Modiji or BJP even understand the importance of Lal Quila?” Congress’s chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala asked. He said, “Is it not true that the private company will now issue tickets to see the Red Fort? Is it not true that if anyone wants to do any commercial activity there, or any function, the private party has to be paid?” “Can you barter out the symbol of freedom movement like the Red Fort to your corporate friends for maintenance?”Surjewala concluded.
  • Under the agreement signed on April 24, the Dalmia Bharat group has agreed to make available certain basic amenities at the monument within six months. These include providing drinking water kiosks, street furniture-like benches and signage to guide the visitors, according to the tourism ministry.
  • Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee tweeted, “Why can’t the Government even take care of our historic Lal Qila? Red Fort is a symbol of our nation. It is where India’s flag is hoisted on Independence Day. Why should it be leased out? Sad and dark day in our history.”
  • Deploring the move, the CPI (M) said that the government has virtually handed over the Red Fort to the Dalmia group. *“The Dalmia group in its own press release has said that they will have to own it for five years initially and the agreement gives them the freedom to make the Dalmia brand prominently visible. It has the right to use its brand name on all kinds of publicity material to be displayed during events organised at the site and also on all signage.__In fact, it will be allowed to proclaim in a prominently displayed sign that the Red Fort has been adopted by Dalmia Bharat Limited,”*the Left party said.

Tourism minister KJ Alphons said the adoption of monuments by companies, such as that of Red Fort by the Dalmia Bharat Group, is aimed at ensuring better maintenance and amenities for visitors.

  • He denied that the Red Fort was being leased out or rebranded as alleged by the opposition. The ministry launched the scheme in September last year, inviting both public and private sector companies to become ‘monument mitras’.
  • “None of the heritage monuments are being rebranded as implied under the ‘adopt a heritage’ scheme,” he told _ET_. “They are also not being ‘handed over’ or ‘leased out’ to private companies. Companies are only expected to work for the upkeep of the monuments by creating some basic infrastructure like public toilets on the periphery under their corporate social responsibility (CSR) schemes.”
  • Alphons also said the government is not paying or receiving any money from companies under the project. The Dalmia Bharat Group has reportedly adopted the Red Fort in a contract worth Rs 25 crore over five years.
  • “It sounds like we have given it to them on a contract worth Rs 25 crore,” he said. “We have not spent or received any money on this. The companies are spending money under CSR.”
  • He said former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of the Congress had sought corporate partnerships for preservation of heritage. “Humayun’s Tomb was handed over completely for restoration to a foreign agency like Aga Khan Foundation,” he said. “We are not allowing any of these ‘monument mitras’ to do any restoration inside the monument at all. They won’t touch the monument.”
  • The ministry said that 31 public and private entities have been approved so far to adopt 95 monuments across India. Adopted Delhi monuments (monument mitras) include Purana Qila (NBCC), Jantar Mantar (SBI Foundation), Qutub Minar (Yatra.com), and Safdarjung Tomb (Travel Corporation of India). ET reported that ITC Hotels and GMR are among the frontrunners for adopting the Taj Mahal.

The tourism ministry clarified that the project is a non-revenue-generating one and no financial bids were involved. It envisages limited access to non-core areas but monuments won’t be ‘handed over’ to private parties.


When was the Red Fort built?

The Red Fort is the modern name for the Qila e Moalla (the ‘Exalted Fort’) built as a focal point of the new capital city of Shahjahanabad, established by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in the mid-17th century.

  • The fort was designed by the architect Ustad Ahmed; construction began in 1639 and ended in 1648, though significant additions continued through the 19th century.
  • An oblong, irregular octagon in shape, the Red Fort has a perimeter of 2.41 km and has two main gates, the Lahore Gate and the Delhi Gate. In Shah Jahan’s time the Yamuna flowed beside the fort and water was channelled from it into the surrounding moat.
  • The structure of the new planned city, Shahjahanabad, drew inspiration from Isfahan, the Persian Capital, and reflected the power and grandeur of the Mughal court. The Fort was the focal point of the city, strategically sited at the end of the primary axis and next to the Yamuna River. It abuts the earlier fort of Salimgarh, constructed on an island in the river and linked to the Red Fort by a bridge.
  • The main palaces – those occupied by the royal family – were situated along what was then the river front. Today only a small proportion of the Red Fort’s original buildings remain; the rest were destroyed after 1857 when British troops occupied the fort.
  • The private apartments consist of a row of pavilions connected by a continuous water channel, known as the Nahr-i-Behisht, or the Stream of Paradise. The palace was designed as an imitation of paradise as described in the Koran; a couplet inscribed in the palace reads, “If there be a paradise on earth, it is here, it is here”.

The planning of the palace is based on Islamic prototypes, but each pavilion reveals architectural elements typical of Mughal building, reflecting a fusion of Persian, Timurid and Hindu traditions. The Red Fort is considered to represent the zenith of Mughal creativity under the Emperor Shah Jahan.

  • Within the enclosing walls, the spatial organisation and architectural attributes of the ensemble of Mughal monuments display most of the main day-to-day activities of Shah Jahan’s court, which at its height accommodated some 3,000 people.
  • The Red Fort was the first Mughal palace fort developed on the basis of a geometrical grid pattern set within an octagonal form, (and within an octagonal city plan). The architecture of the Red Fort is based on the concept of pavilion structures, set within the grid.
  • The primary building material is brick, clad with sandstone or marble. The buildings were characterised by decorative elements that synthesised Persian, European and Indian motifs creating a unique Shahjahani style which incorporated intricate geometric compositions, pietra dura inlay, bright colours and flowing water. Shah Jahan was the first to use tall, complex pierced marble jali partitions_,_ based on hexagonal forms. These design elements were a culmination of those developed by preceding Mughal rulers.
  • Since it was built, the Fort has been added to and some parts demolished. Additions include the Moti Masjid (Pearl Mosque) built by Shahjahan’s son and successor Aurangzeb in 1659-60, and additions by the last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar.
  • After 1857, many structures within the fort were demolished by the British who erected colonial style military buildings in their place, and transformed the Mughal gardens into English gardens, interrupting the spatial planning within the Red Fort.
  • An equally profound change has been brought by the Yamuna River changing its course and moving further east; its original line between the two forts is now taken by the Inner Delhi Ring Road.

What now exists cannot be said to reflect all the principles of Mughal planning and design. Rather the built remains of the Red Fort complex now display the impact of British colonisation on surviving Mughal architecture and planning.

Where are the critics going wrong?

What is being missed here is that this “Adopt a Heritage” program is just a repackaged and rebranded scheme of the BJP government that was initiated in 1996 under then Prime Minister Atal Bihari.

  • The National Cultural Fund (NCF) was established by the ministry of culture in 1996 as a trust under the Charitable Endowments Act, 1890. NCF’s primary mandate is to establish and nurture public private partnerships (PPP) in the protection and conservation of India’s heritage.
  • NCF’s role is to strengthen the relationship between private, public, government, non-government agencies, private institutions and foundations and mobilise resources for the restoration, conservation, protection and development of India’s rich, natural, tangible and intangible heritage.
  • NCF provides donors with 100 per cent tax benefit under section 80G (2) of the Income Tax Act.Currently, NCF has such partnerships for the conservation of monuments with public sector undertakings such as the National Thermal Power Corporation, Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), Steel Authority of India, Indian Oil Corporation, Housing and Urban Development Corporation, Rural Electrification Corporation and the like, and also with private sector companies.

Though the program was started under the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, neither UPA 1 nor UPA 2 which ran the government for two terms before Narendra Modi and the BJP took over in 2014 had any problem with it.

  • In fact, several memorandums of understanding (MoU) were signed under the plan when the UPA government was in power. A MoU was signed between the Archaeological Survey of India, Nature Conservation Foundation and Hampi Foundation on June 12, 2008, for contribution towards conservation and restoration of Krishna Temple in Hampi. Two international funding agencies – Northern California-based Global Heritage Fund and UNESCO’s World Monument Fund joined Jindal South West Foundation (JSWF) to restore three temple sites in the world famous Hampi ruins.
  • A memorandum of cooperation was also signed with ONGC on December 18, 2009, where all parties agreed to collaborate and undertake projects for propagation of national heritage and culture over a period of five years. Many more such examples of the government reaching out to the corporate world for preservation and conservation of heritage exit during Congress-led UPA’s term exit.

PPPs are a necessity of the current times to ensure the survival of cultural heritage – both tangible and intangible.

  • The intangible heritage, which includes India’s disappearing local dialects, folk songs and stories, ritual theatres and dance dramas, traditional utensil making crafts and many, is fast becoming extinct.
  • Governments, both at the Centre and state, need to identify heritage, analyse what they have within their ambit and define regulations on what needs to be protected and how. An important aspect of this conservation is finance.
  • There is nothing wrong in a private entity using the heritage value of the cultural property to generate money. However, it should be done in a way that suits the spirit of the place and in a manner that doesn’t harm the heritage under question. In consultations with experts and local communities, the government should define what needs to be conserved and how, employing traditional skills that have withstood the test of time.

Checks and balances should be put in place with yearly reviews by committees and audits.

  • What India needs at the moment are the combined efforts of the government and private enterprises. Any such effort would also need the active support of the public. Above all, this work would need everybody to take a step back from narrow political interests and unnecessary and misplaced accusations borne out of paranoia.
  • The Dalmia group has also agreed to put up within a year tactile maps, upgrade toilets, light up the pathways and bollards, carry out restoration work and landscaping and build a 1,000-square-foot visitor facility centre. It will also provide a 3-D projection mapping of the fort’s interior and exterior, battery-operated vehicles and charging stations for such vehicles and a thematic cafeteria.
  • 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.

Yes, the government can do this too. But why can’t it let a private party do it?

The fort has seen off many governments. It is unlikely that it will be shaken by a maintenance contract.

Whose blood and tears nourish the Red Fort?

Mirza Abu Zafar Sirajuddin Muhammad Bahadur Shah Zafar was the last Mughal emperor. He was a nominal Emperor, as the Mughal Empire existed in name only and his authority was limited only to the city of Delhi (Shahjahanbad). Zafar was also a talented Urdu poet and musician in his own right. He had written a large number of ghazals and his court was home to several Urdu writers of great repute including Mirza Ghalib, Dagh, Mumin, and Zauq. As a poet, Zafar imbibed the highest subtleties of mystical Sufi teachings.

He, a man of letters, was not a very ambitious ruler, and thus the British believed that he posed no real threat to them. But history had other ideas. The poet who wrote his own epitaph would have patriotism and martyrdom imposed upon him.

  • The year 1857 witnessed an armed rebellion in parts of central India and northern India leading to the loss of British control over these regions for a while. Red Fort and its occupant, Bahadur Shah Zafar, became the most important symbol of the rebellion.
  • Historian Eric Stokes writes that the rebel soldiers showed a “centripetal impulse to congregate at Delhi”. Pressured by the rebels, a reluctant 82-year-old Mughal emperor became the leader of the rebellion while real power was exercised by rebel soldiers, princes and nobles.
  • The fall of Delhi sparked off mutinies and uprisings; the rebellion acquired a civil and popular character in parts of north India. With the coming of the rebel troops from Bareilly to Delhi, led by Muhammad Bakht Khan, a government was formed combining civil and military administration.
  • Muhammad Bakht Khan was nominated Sahib-i-Alam Bahdur (governor general) and he functioned with the help of an administrative court. Historian K.N. Panikkar points out that the court conducted the affairs of the state in the name of the emperor. He was recognised as an emperor by all rebel leaders. Coins were struck and orders were issued in his name.
  • A retreating British army took refuge in the Delhi Ridge area while waiting for the reinforcements from Ambala. Historian Rudrangshu Mukhjee writes that their aim was to regain control of Delhi which had become the focal point of rebellion. Other centres of revolt were soon suppressed.

After gaining control of Delhi around September 1857, the British resorted to harsh reprisals marked by summary court martial and hangings, blowing rebels from the cannon and indiscriminate shootings.

  • Bahadur Shah Zafar, who had escaped by the Yamuna river route to take refuge in Humayun’s tomb, was caught along with three princes. The arrested emperor was brought back to the Red Fort as a prisoner while the three princes were killed by Major William Hodson near Delhi Gate.
  • On the 20th day of the trial in the Diwan-i-Khas (Hall of Special Audience), Bahadur Shah Zafar defended himself against these charges. Bahadur Shah, in his defence, stated his complete helplessness before the will of the sepoys. The sepoys apparently used to affix his seal on empty envelopes, the contents of which he was absolutely unaware.
  • Zafar was found guilty and exiled to Rangoon (now Yangon) on October 7, 1858. At 4 AM on 7 October 1858, Zafar along with his wives, two remaining sons began his journey towards Rangoon. He would never see Delhi again.

Zafar died on Friday, 7 November 1862 at 5 am.

Denied a pen and paper, the exiled and imprisoned Bahadur Shah Zafar had used a burnt stick to write on the walls of the garage what he was going through — “Padhne faatehaa koi aaye kyon, koi chaar phool chadhane aaye kyon; koi aake shama jalaye kyon, main vo bekasi kaa mazaar huun” (Why should someone come to pray on my behalf? Or bring me a bunch of flowers? Why should anyone light a candle for me? I am nothing but a gloomy tomb).

Bahadur Shah II is long gone. But Zafar, he lives on. This is the epitaph of Zafar, written by Zafar (no English translation can do justice to the original Urdu version):

My heart has no repose in this despoiled land

Who has ever felt fulfilled in this futile world?

The nightingale complains about neither the sentinel nor the hunter

Fate had decreed imprisonment during the harvest of spring

Tell these longings to go dwell elsewhere

What space is there for them in this besmirched heart?

Sitting on a branch of flowers, the nightingale rejoices

It has strewn thorns in the garden of my heart

I asked for a long life, I received four days

Two passed in desire, two in waiting.

The days of life are over, evening has fallen

I shall sleep, legs outstretched, in my tomb

How unfortunate is Zafar! For his burial

Not even two yards of land were to be had, in the land of his beloved.

How unmaintained are India’s historic monuments?

There are 3686 centrally protected monuments/sites under the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). The conservation and maintenance of these monuments, including forts and temples, is done regularly as per the availability of resources.


  • ASI is the agency responsible for the preservation and upkeep of the monuments that are important to (in the ASI’s own words) the “cultural heritage of the nation”. It was, therefore, deemed to be a serious lapse on the part of the organisation when 24 monuments of historical importance were found in 2017 to have ceased to exist in various parts of the country.
  • The information came to light when the minister of state for culture and tourism, Mahesh Sharma was responding to an unstarred question raised in the Lok Sabha regarding the preservation and upkeep of monuments under the ASI, and the steps taken to keep such monuments free from encroachment.
  • Rapid urbanisation, and the increasing demand for space, allows neglected monuments to become spaces into which settlements can easily encroach. In his reply, the minister touched upon the issue of encroachments and listed the measures his ministry has taken to minimise this.
  • He said that Superintending Archaeologists of the ASI have the authority to issue show cause notices against encroachers, and they are also vested with the powers of an Estate Officer to enable them to issue eviction notices to encroachers. Evidently, these powers are not being used adequately or effectively.
  • Some of the obvious problems could be those of funding and implementation. Given that there are thousands of monuments under the care of the ASI, spread across the length and breadth of the country, proper budget allocations, and proper implementation of the plans are certainly a mammoth task.

However, given that the tourism potential of such monuments – if maintained and marketed well – is immense, the monetary benefits of an initial investment in historical sites could yield enough returns to be able to sustain the maintenance itself.

  • Monuments such as the guns of Emperor Sher Shah in Tinsukia in Assam would be an attraction, not just for tourists, but for historians and scholars studying the period or the person.
  • Imagine an experience of visiting this historical site, buttressed with some authentic historical information, presented in order to engage both the casual visitor and the academic. It could have been a museum of great historical and tourism import. But as things stand, the site has been lost, perhaps forever.

The law to protect such monuments has been diluted

  • “Moving away from the party lines, the members have supported the Bill,” culture minister Mahesh Sharma said in January this year while replying to the concerns raised by the members during the debate on Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Amendment) Bill, 2017.
  • “We are happy to say that in the last three years UNESCO has recognised six monuments (of India),” the minister said. The bar on new construction within prohibited areas of a protected monument was adversely affecting various public works and developmental projects of the central government, the bill’s Statement of Objects and Reasons said.
  • Amendments have been proposed in the legislation to the 1958 Act that prohibits carrying out any public work or project or other constructions in any prohibited area around protected monuments.A ‘prohibited area’ means land in the 100-metre radius around a protected monument. Currently, construction is not allowed in the prohibited areas except for repair and renovation works.

The new law will give relaxation only for government works to be carried out in national interest and no private work will be allowed.

So, as per the law, the Dalmiya Bharat group cannot take up any construction activity in the vicinity of the fort that now will flaunt their name on certain banners.

As Zafar would suggest, “Don’t outstrip your limits, keep thy self-control, In this ever-shifting world, warily should you stroll…”