Protests in Assam, state denies move to ‘privatize’ heritage sites

Public protests were held in Assam on May 2 over the Centre’s decision to involve the private sector in the maintenance of public amenities at the state’s four historical sites, even as authorities denied any move to hand these over to private parties.

The Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuva Chatra Parishad held a protest demonstration at Nagaon. Its supporters also burnt effigies of the Assam government and shouted slogans against the move.

The All Tai Ahom Students Union threatened to launch a state-wide movement against the decision, whereas the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti also warned against the “privatisation of the historical sites”.

Leader of the Opposition in the Assam Assembly, Debabrata Saikia, also condemned the move, terming the step part of a ploy by the BJP to destroy the Assamese identity by targeting national self-respect, national consciousness and national pride.

Under the ‘Adopt a Heritage’ scheme, the Kaziranga National Park, Rang Ghar and Kareng Ghar in Sivasagar and Shiva Dol in Dergaon will be handed over to private parties for maintenance and improvement in basic amenities for tourists.

Assam Tourism Development Corporation Chairman Jayanta Malla Baruah on May 2 told a hurriedly convened press conference in Guwahati that there is no move to hand over historical monuments in the state to private parties.

“There is no plan to hand over historical monuments to private parties. Private parties will be engaged only to maintain basic amenities and other facilities like lighting etc. in the peripheral areas of monuments and they cannot touch the core areas,” Baruah said.

“The historical monuments are the property of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). If there is any maintenance issue, the ASI will take a decision,” he said and added that the private sector will spend their corporate social responsibility money for maintenance work.

The official maintained that the scheme was aimed at involving public and private companies and corporate individuals to take up responsibility to make heritage tourism more sustainable through development, operation and maintenance of world-class infrastructure and amenities at ASI and state-owned heritage and other tourist sites in India.

“They will become ‘Monument Mitras’ through an innovative concept of “Vision Bidding”, wherein the agency with best vision for heritage site will be given an opportunity to associate it with their CSR activities.”

“They will also get limited visibility on the premises and ‘Incredible India’ website. The aim is to enhance tourists’ experience and promotion of incredible heritage sites on the tourism map,” he said.

Basic amenities include cleanliness, public conveniences, drinking water, ease of access for differently-abled and senior citizens, standardised signage, illumination as well as advanced amenities like surveillance system, night-viewing facilities, tourism facilitation centre etc.

The World Heritage Site of Kaziranga National Park is home to two third of the world’s great one-horned rhinoceroses.

The Rang Ghar in Sivasagar is a two-storey building that served as a sports pavilion for the erstwhile Ahom kings and nobles who witnessed spectator sports like buffalo fights. It is situated at Rangpur, 3 km from Sivasagar town.

Kareng Ghar is near Gargaon in Sivasagar district and is one of the grandest examples of Ahom architecture. The Negheriting Shiva Dol is an ancient Shiva temple in Dergaon, Assam.

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