Groups in Assam oppose Centre’s ‘Adopt a Heritage’ scheme

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GUWAHATI, May 2: Various organisations in Assam erupted in protests on Wednesday against the Centre’s move to hand over four sites of tourists’ attraction in the state for corporate adoption under the “Adopt a Heritage” scheme.
The four sites are Kaziranga National Park in central Assam and historical monuments Rangghar, Kareng Ghar and Shiva Dol, all in Sivasagar district in upper Assam.
The organisations, notably Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) and All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), opposed the move.
“The four sites in question are the pride of Assam. The state is known worldwide for Kaziranga National Park. Similarly, the Ahom dynasty era Rangghar, Kareng Ghar and Shiva Dol are our heritage. We will oppose tooth and nail any move by the Centre to hand them over to any private parties for maintenance. The people in Assam will oppose it,” KMSS leader Akhil Gogoi warned.
“If the Centre cannot maintain the sites, it should hand them over to the people of Assam. They will maintain these,” the KMSS said in a statement.
The AASU asked the government to immediately shelve the plan.
“The AASU will not accept the heritage sites to be handed over to private parties for maintenance. It is the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) that is entrusted with the task of maintaining them. If the ASI has failed to deliver, its officers should be taken to task,” the AASU said.
Opposition Congress said the Centre’s move was condemnable.
“The Congress will stage protests if the Centre goes ahead with the plan,” Assam Pradesh Congress Committee chief Ripun Bora said.
Amidst the uproar, the Sarbananda Sonowal government clarified its position on Wednesday. The Assam Tourism Development Corporation Ltd (ATDCL) said the Centre’s move had been misconstrued in the state.
“There is a misconception in Assam that the sites are being privatised. The government is not handing over the core areas of the heritage sites to private parties. Under the corporate social responsibility (CSR), a company will take care of the peripheries of the sites by developing amenities, such as toilets, parking, cafeteria, stall for souvenirs etc, for tourists. The core areas will not be touched,” ATDCL chairman Jayanta Malla Barua told reporters.
He said the companies would not adopt the sites for financial benefits. Their sole benefit will be that they could tell the tourists about adopting a site by putting up hoardings etc at locations outside the core area. The government’s benefit will be that the sites will be properly maintained, Barua said.
The Jungle Travels India Group (JTIG), a Guwahati-based travel and hospitality company, has filed the expression of interest (EoI).
“The JTIG is the only group to have filed the EoI in Assam. It has been asked to submit the vision document. The initial period of maintenance will be of two years. Based on performance, the contract may be extended for five years,” Barua said. (Courtesy: NIE)