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Mystery shrouds ‘Adopt a Heritage’

No handing over of heritage sites to private parties that will only provide utility services in fringe areas, not in core areas: ATDC

Staff Reporter
GUWAHATI, May 2: Even as Assam Tourism Development Corporation (ATDC) has said that there is no move to hand over any of the heritage sites of the country to private parties, mystery continues to shroud  the Centre’s move that may even be the first step towards the handing over of such sites to private parties.
The government has been facing a barrage of criticism from various quarters on the reported handing over of three Ahom-era monuments and the Kaziranga National Park (KNP) to a private party for their maintenance. 
Reacting sharply to the reported move, the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) has said: “The move is unfortunate.”
AASU president Dipanko Kumar Nath and general secretary Lurinjyoti Gogoi said: “Under no circumstances we’re going to accept the handing over of State monuments and the KNP to any private party. The sentiment and history of Assam are thoroughly blended with the heritage sites of the State. Dispur should oppose the Centre’s move. This is a suicidal move that may open the gate for private parties to earn profits. Assam has rich tourism potentials. The government should develop the sector so as to enable local youths to get self-employment opportunities.”         
Briefing the media here on Wednesday, ATDC chairman Jayanta Mallah Baruah said: “There’s no move to hand over the KNP and Ahom monuments – Rang Ghar, Kareng Ghar and Shiva Daul in Sivasagar –to any private party. The Union Ministry of Tourism has launched a project – Adopt a Heritage – so as to ensure investment from the private sector for the development of utility services in heritage sites of the country through their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities. However, such private parties are not supposed to carry out any activities in the core areas of such sites. Their activities will be confined to providing utility services like toilet facilities, drinking water facilities, cafeteria, tourist facilitation centres, etc., and their proper upkeep. Adopt a Heritage is not a revenue-earning project and as such no private party can earn revenue from the utility services they are supposed to provide. Private companies are to spend two per cent of their total turnover for CSR activities. They will provide utility services from that two per cent CSR funds and the revenue they are supposed to get from the utility services is to be spent for the maintenance of the services. The question of handing over heritage sites to private parties doesn’t arise.”
When asked as to who will be in the State of affairs for the maintenance of the heritage sites of Assam, Baruah said: “The three monuments of the Ahom era are with the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) and the KNP is with the State Environment and Forest Department. They will continue to be with their respective maintenance authorities”.
Baruah said: “The Union ministry has placed Assam in the third phase of the project. Barring the invitation of the Express of Interest (EI) nothing tangible has been done towards that end. Even no memorandum of understanding (MoU) has been signed for Assam heritage sites as yet. If there’re any private companies interested to provide utility services to the State’s heritage sites, they can apply. So far, from Assam only JTI Group (Jungle Travels India Private Ltd) with its head office in Guwahati has submitted its EI to the Ministry. The ministry has asked JTI Group to submit its vision document.”
When asked as to why private parties are being given the responsibility of providing utility services in the fringe areas of such important heritage sites, Baruah said: “The track record of government agencies in providing utility services is not at all good. The crux of the matter lies in the fact that tourists always want high facilities which government agencies can’t provide.”
At present the entry fee to the KNP is charged by the State Forest Department and the Jeep Safari benefits some local youths who run it. When asked if the entry of private sector in providing utility services will affect them, Baruah said: “Utility service providers are not supposed to charge any entry fees to the KNP nor are they supposed to provide Jeep safari since they will be allowed to provide services only in the fringe areas.”
Meanwhile, talking to the media here, JTI Group MD Ashish Phukan said that they had submitted EIs to the ministry for the three monuments of Sivasagar. “For the KNP, we’ve only submitted a suggestion. We’re yet to get any official communication from the ministry. The media reports are news for us. The monuments in Sivasagar are to be looked after by the ASI. Our EI is just to provide the utility services like toilet facilities, providing tea and coffee, drinking water, etc. Since we’re from Assam, why should we allow a company from outside the State to do all these? For the KNP, we’ve just mooted the formation of a Kaziranga Development Authority that can develop the heritage sites within five km by involving all local stakeholders. Providing utility service is a no-profit no-loss concept.”           
Our Correspondents add:
GOLAGHAT: The decision of the Narendra Modi-led BJP government to hand over some heritage sites of Assam to private companies has been slammed by the Chatra Mukti Sangram Samiti (CMSS), Golaghat district on Wednesday. The Samiti staged protest near the Deputy Commissioner’s office against the decision of the BJP government to hand over four heritage sites – Rang Ghar, Kareng Ghar, Shiva Dol and Kaziranga National Park – to corporate companies.
SIVASAGAR:  The Central Government’s proposed move to hand over three archaeological sites located in Sivasagar – the 18th century amphitheatre Rang Ghar, the Ahom royal palace Kareng Ghar and the Ahom-era Shiva Doul – to private firms has drawn sharp reactions from the Ahom Royal Society.

Kaziranga: Different organizations – the AASU, AJYCP, Kaziranga Jeep Safari and Development Association protest against the decision. The  AJYCP burnt effigies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and State Tourism Minister Chandan Brahma at Kohora. On the other hand, the central community of the AASU blocked the NH 37 for about an hour.
GUWAHATI: Pro-talk ULFA leader Anup Chetia said the Centre and the State Government should immediately cancel all their anti-Assam decisions. “The government should take such moves on their own to develop various sectors in the State,” he said. 

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Ankur Kalita