Mumbai, Sep 6 (IANS) A purported move by the Maharashtra government to privatise over two dozen hill-forts and even open them for private functions such as weddings stirred up a major political row with the potential to snowball into an election issue on Friday.
The move, labelled by the opposition parties as “preposterous and sell-out of the state’s heritage”, attracted criticism from none other than Chhatrapati Sambhajiraje – the descendent of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj – who demanded that Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis immediately rescind the move.
Stung by the unexpected backlash – on the eve of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the state on Saturday – the state government hastily issued an official denial through the Tourism Secretary Vinita Singhal and even Tourism Minister Jaykumar Rawal debunked any such moves.
However, opposition Congress leaders such as Vijay Wadettivar, Ashok Chavan, Sachin Sawant and Nationalist Congress Party’s Supriya Sule, Ajit Pawar, Dhananjay Munde, Amol Kolhe and others were not convinced and launched a blistering attack on the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena combine.
While Chavan termed it as a “sell-out” of the state’s glorious history to hoteliers, Sule said hiring out these forts to hotels or as wedding venues would tar the glory and valour of our great leaders like Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.
The two parties compared the government with the reign of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, saying that what he could not achieve, the ruling BJP-Sena was trying to do in the name of “privatizing and selling out” the hill forts.
According to some reports, the state government is currently finalizing a new tourism policy in which forts that are not on the list of ‘protected monuments’ would be thrown open for development, tourism purposes and ostensibly even for private functions or weddings.
Attempting to mollify the Opposition, Rawal explained that there are three kinds of forts in Maharashtra – one associated with Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and his reign, others falling under the Archaeological Survey of India and the final category coming under the state’s Revenue, Forest or Tourism departments.
“Our policy pertains only to the third category which could be developed through private participationa We are still working on the policy as it exists in some other states. Some people are spreading baseless rumours and creating confusion,” Rawal said.
He pointed out how states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Goa and Puducherry have an aAdopt A Fort’ policy which has been implemented successfully for the upkeep of old monuments.
Unfortunately, though Maharashtra has the maximum number of forts, it does not have such a policy, many forts are in a bad condition with not even a security guard for their safety, and hence the state government is considering a tourism-centric initiative with participation of locals to conserve these monuments, the minister said.
According to the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC), there are around 350 big and small forts dotting the state, but a majority are associated with Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.
They include the famed ‘sea-forts’ in the coastal region, ‘hill-forts’ in the Western Ghats, some in urban centres such as Mumbai, Pune, Aurangabad, Nagpur, Kolhapur, and others in the rural areas or even forests.