Critics say India heritage scheme means Taj Mahal privatization

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Heritage activists Sunday accused the Indian government of trying to privatize historic relics such as the Taj Mahal after it launched a controversial scheme allowing companies to “adopt” dozens of monuments.

Opposition politicians accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government of “leasing out” monuments under the “Adopt a Heritage” plan that will see 95 historic sites taken over by private entities.

India’s tourism ministry on Saturday announced a five-year contract worth 250 million rupees ($3.7 million) with the Dalmia Bharat conglomerate for the iconic 17th-century Red Fort in Delhi and another fort in the southern Andhra Pradesh state.

Other monuments on the list include the Taj Mahal -- which two conglomerates are competing for -- and the 12th-century UNESCO-listed Qutub Minar complex in Delhi.

The Red Fort -- built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in 1639 and also on the UNESCO list -- is where India’s prime minister makes an annual independence day speech.

The government says contracts awarded under the program will only cover development, operations and maintenance of amenities around the Red Fort.

Dalmia Bharat will be allowed to put up some advertising, set ticket prices and earn money from their sales, under government supervision.

All proceeds must go into improvements of the monument, according to government officials who insist companies will not be allowed to profit from the scheme.

Critics said, however, the auctions were a virtual privatization of the relics.

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