Forts with links to Chhatrapati Shivaji won’t be touched: CM

Venting ire: Nationalist Congress Party workers protest the government’s decision to lease out forts in the State to private players and consortia.

Venting ire: Nationalist Congress Party workers protest the government’s decision to lease out forts in the State to private players and consortia.

Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Friday night clarified that the forts with links to Chhatrapati Shivaji will be excluded from the State government’s plan to promote tourism facilities at forts which are not in the Archaeological Survey of India’s (ASI) protected list.

Mr. Fadnavis told reporters in Pune that the government will not allow anyone to touch a single fort which is linked to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and the Maratha kingdom. He said, “We too are committed to conserving our history. The decision has been taken about some forts where no history of the structures is available. The objective is to promote tourism at such forts.”

The Chief Minister added, “Ours is the first government to prepare a comprehensive policy for preserving and upgrading Raigad fort, the capital of Shivaji Maharaj’s Hindavi Swarajya. There is no truth to claims that forts will be leased out for weddings and other events.”

Earlier in the day, the government’s decision to lease out forts to private players and consortia raised a political storm and attracted condemnation from Opposition parties. Clarifying the government’s position, State Tourism Secretary Vinita Singhal said around 300 forts come under the ASI’s protected category, Class 1, and have an independent programme for their conservation. She said, “We don’t plan to touch forts which have historical value and are protected under the ASI, like the Raigad fort. The State has budgeted over ₹500 crore for its upgradation.”

Ms. Singhal earlier said that there are many forts that are not in the ASI’s protected list and visited by people for picnics and hiking. She said that only these Class 2 forts with lesser historical significance would be developed as tourist spots. She said, “These are blessed with beautiful landscape and have history and tradition. They can be used for tourism as we want to give impetus to local economy.”

On reports that the forts will also be used as wedding venues and heritage hotels, Ms. Singhal said the policy also makes it clear that the local flora and fauna will be protected and no permanent constructions will be allowed. “Social events which fit into the fabric of Maharashtra’s political life will be allowed,” she said.

Condemning the move, Leader of Opposition in the Legislative Council Dhananjay Munde said renting out forts for heritage hotels and wedding venues is an insult to Shivaji and his followers. “This capitalist government is planning to give away Chhatrapati Shivaji’s forts on rent.” Mr. Munde said, warning the government against touching the forts. “If you can’t protect the history and legacy of Shivaji Maharaj, Lakhs of his followers like us are still around to look after them,” he said.

The government shouldn’t play with emotions of Shiv bhakts.” he said. The NCP leader alleged that the Modi government gave the historical Red Fort on lease and now the State government is following suit.

MNS leader Anil Shidore said the government shouldn’t commercialise the State’s pride and history, while Congress leader Muzaffar Hussain said the government may even sell the forts in future. NCP MP Amol Kolhe said, “This government is doing what even Aurangazeb could not do. The conservation of forts has to be done, but inviting private companies and letting them operate hotels and parties on forts can never be the way to conserve forts.”

NCP MLA Jitendra Awhad and party demanded that the minutes of the September 3 Cabinet meeting be made open to the public to know how the government arrived at the decision to include renting of forts in the new Tourism Policy.

Nana Patole, Congress campaign committee president, said the government is selling and renting out forts since it is buried under debt. “This government needs to be condemned for the decision. We promise to throw this policy in the dustbin once we come back to power in the next two months,” he said.

Former chief minister Ashok Chavan said that it is not true that conservation can be done only by private hotels and corporates. “The earlier government had decided to charge a nominal fee from visitors to keep the forts clean. The Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation has a number of other hotels and resorts which are not running in good condition. They should first concentrate on improving the condition there instead of thinking about forts.”

BJP Rajya Sabha MP Yuvraj Sambhajiraje Chhatrapati, who is a descendant of Shivaji, also criticised the government. “Our forts are the pride of every Maharashtrian. They need to be conserved and opened to International Tourist as historic monuments through proper planning. But building hotels will damage our heritage and the sentiments of our people. We’re against this idea!!” he tweeted.

A new tourism policy cleared by the State Cabinet on Wednesday allowed privatisation of MTDC resorts, open land and other protected monuments which are not under the ASI’s control. Some of the forts to be leased out in the first phase include Kandhar, Nagardhan, Nandur, Korigad, Laling, Salher, Parola and Ghodbunder. All of them are under State control.

(With PTI inputs)

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Printable version | May 22, 2022 2:13:30 pm |