At last winds of change are blowing through the hallowed portals of the Archaeological Survey of India. After many years of debate, the sole custodian of national monuments has decided to allow corporate participation in its conservation efforts.
In the past two months, the ASI, vide a new policy, has been considering proposals from a wide variety of Indian corporate houses to participate in conservation efforts.
Said Babu Rajeev, director, the ASI, "Although we have had a lot of corporates wanting to get involved in conservation efforts, we did not have a specific policy in place. Recently, the ASI, along with the ministry of culture, has decided to ask interested corporate houses to send proposals for improving the environment around nationally important monuments. We now have a policy, which allows corporate bodies to participate in conservation efforts, given certain conditions."
As a result, since June this year, the ASI has signed a number of memorandum of understandings with corporate houses that include Indian Hotels Ltd, Jindal Foundation, Indian Oil Foundation and Oil India to create peripheral facilities around monuments such as the Sun Temple in Konark, the temple complex at Hampi and the Eastern and Western courtyards at the Taj Mahal. The ASI is considering proposals from Thomas Cook for some monuments in Rajasthan as well.
The ASI is also collaborating with the World Monument Fund, a US-based private heritage fund, for restoring the water seepage-threatened Jaisalmer fort.
In a joint venture with the ASI, the WMF will be engaged in a geological and hydrological study, based on which the ASI will carry out emergency repairs at the fort.
Of the Rs 6 crore (Rs 60 million) project cost, the ASI will contribute Rs 3.5 crore (Rs 35 million), while the fund will contribute the rest.
These collaborations, Rajeev pointed out, will enable the funds-strapped organisation to focus on its core business of conservation and protection of monuments. The ASI has so far raised close to Rs 40 crore (Rs 400 million) from various MoUs.
Initial corporate participation will be for the conservation of 5,000 monuments under the ASI's direct protection. Rajeev further said, "The corporates would be involved in creating facilities such as hotels, restaurants and shopping areas around these big monuments so that visitors' experience can be enhanced and tourist traffic increased. We plan to later on involve them in conserving smaller monuments, as well as training tour guides and bringing out good quality books."