Maharashtra opens up forts to private investors in new tourism initiative

Published : September 12, 2019 17:37 IST

A view of the ruins of Shivneri Fort in Maharashtra’s Pune district. Photo: Sandeep Rasal

Maharashtra’s sluggish tourism industry is all set to get a boost and the State’s forts, especially Class 2 forts, are expected to benefit from this. Class 2 forts—those that are of a lesser historical significance and do not come under the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI)— are the property of the Maharashtra State Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) and currently exist in a sort of limbo. A new tourism policy cleared by the Maharashtra State Cabinet on September 4 allows the privatisation of resorts belonging to the MTDC, including open, unused land and monuments that are not protected by the ASI.

The model that is being followed is similar to the one that has been successfully followed by the Rajasthan government. Essentially, the policy says that among the many properties held by the MTDC, 350 have been selected to be leased out either on a revenue-sharing basis or on a one-time premium charge paid by private investors.

Twenty-five forts figure in this list and they are to be leased for 30 or 60 years. Among them are Laling, Kandhar, Nandur, Salher, Parola, Korigad and Ghodbunder. Most of them are in isolated regions. Laling, for instance, is in the tribal district of Dhule in the northern part of the State. Their remoteness is believed to be part of the attraction to a new segment of tourists who search for novelty.

From many points of view the plan seems promising. But heritage experts fear that the historical integrity of the forts will be compromised in the interests of modern aesthetics, comforts for tourists, convenience and safety. Indeed, the lease terms specify that access to the forts be made easy, and air connectivity is a requirement.

The policy also states that no water bodies should be destroyed nor should the environment be harmed. There seems to be a grey area here because tourism, of the sort that the government is trying to encourage, is not known to be eco-friendly. And private investors are being actively encouraged to develop local infrastructure as well as the forts themselves.

The isolation of many of these forts has been a double-edged sword. Neglect and a slow succumbing to the elements is the most obvious cause of destruction, but, at the same time, being under the radar all this while has, in a way, preserved the forts. Poor connectivity and nonexistent infrastructure has automatically meant fewer footfalls and no aggressive construction.

The aimed for balance in which the forts are preserved but yet “pay their way” can only be achieved if a sensitive approach is taken while implementing the new policy. Officials say that stringent standards have been incorporated into the policy to ensure that the forts are preserved.