The contract won by the Dalmia Bharat Group to maintain the historical Red Fort has created a storm, with critics and experts divided on the issue of allowing a corporate house to adopt a national monument. Dalmia Bharat won the contract under the Adopt A Heritage scheme by edging out IndiGo airlines and the GMR Group, said media reports. The contract is valued at Rs25 crore for a period of five years. For the purpose, the ministry of tourism, ministry of culture and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) signed a memorandum of understanding with Dalmia Bharat under the government’s plan to allow corporates to manage select monuments and heritage sites.

The company is expected to start work on the project in less than 15 days. A report in the Business Standard stated that the company will complete the night illumination of the 17th century fort before handing it over temporarily for the Prime Minister’s Independence Day address. Post the facelift, Dalmia Bharat is expected to market and promote the fort to drive tourism. It also plans to use the Red Fort for events such as music concerts and other cultural activities to enhance tourist interest.

From a corporate’s point of view, the benefits of this development are clear. A corporate house has much to gain by being able to leverage the fame and the legacy value of iconic structures and monuments. And Rs25 crore is not a big sum, especially when compared to what brands spend on celebrity endorsements and associations.

There are three obvious benefits to the brand or the corporate. “Firstly, there’s tremendous brand visibility as the footfalls and media coverage is guaranteed by the heritage sites itself. Secondly, the prestige that the association bestows on the brand can add much lustre to the brand’s image. Third is the direct revenue earning potential from using the heritage site as a venue for hosting events," says Samit Sinha, founder and managing partner at Alchemist Brand Consulting.

The key rub-off on a brand’s image is in helping the brand being perceived globally as an integral part of the country’s history, culture and social fabric. That certainly helps elevate its status internationally. The gain to the brand image far outweighs the cost of maintenance and upkeep of the site, he adds.

Sanjay Sarma, founder of branding and design consultancy Design Worldwide, agrees and says that the benefits of such association may be intangible but significant. “A corporate can significantly improve its equity and value in the eyes of all stakeholders by sustaining its efforts in this direction. It cannot be a one-off thing but has to be a part of its core DNA. So ‘adopting a monument’ would be a logical progression from other CSR (corporate social responsibility) decisions it would have made. Personally, I am more in favour of a corporate being involved, rather than a brand using it as a promotional space," he adds. Besides, the money being spent by the corporate is insignificant. “Brands are spending 10 times more on a property like IPL (Indian Premier League) over a month, whereas an association like this builds lasting value over years. And Dalmia Bharat has already garnered enough print space and mind space within a few days," says Sarma.

What the country probably gains is better maintenance, upkeep and overall management of the national heritage. However, the move reflects the deficiencies of the ministry of culture and ASI, whose responsibility it should be to ensure that these cultural treasures are well maintained. Or its marketing, which should be the responsibility of the ministry of tourism. It is a real pity that the government is incapable of performing these duties. Sinha feels that while such an association is hugely beneficial for the corporate, it may be detrimental to the iconic stature of the monuments. “These are timeless brands by themselves and carry a significant amount of both tangible and psychological value, which are unlikely to be enhanced in the long run by their short-term commercialization. Of course it would all depend on how tastefully the corporate decides to use the association. A crassly commercial attempt will certainly demean the aura of the monuments, sites and buildings that are powerful symbols of a country’s historical richness," he adds.

Sarma, meanwhile, says that corporate brand association would not diminish the stature of a historical monument if it is discreet. “As a community, we all need to do our bit to protect and preserve historical monuments. And corporates stepping forward to enhance the visitor experience is a welcome move," he points out.

Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pressing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff.

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