The Maharashtra government's plan to promote tourism facilities on forts which are not in ASI's protected list came under fire on Friday, with Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis clarifying that the forts which have links to Chhatrapati Shivaji will be excluded.
The government will not allow anyone "to touch a single fort which is linked to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj", Mr Fadnavis told reporters in Pune late Friday night.
The opposition parties said earlier in the day that the plan to "rent out forts for heritage hotels and wedding venues'' was an insult to Shivaji Maharaj.
There are about 350 forts in Maharashtra and the development plan will give impetus to local economy, state Tourism Secretary Vinita Singhal had told PTI.
"We don't plan to touch heritage forts which have historical value and are protected under the ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) like the Raigad fort. The state government has already budgeted over Rs 500 crore for its upgradation," she said.
Speaking in Pune, Chief Minister Fadnavis said, "No such permission will be given for the forts which are linked to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and the Maratha kingdom."
"We too are committed to conserving our history. The particular decision has been taken about some 200 to 300 forts where no history of that structure is available and the objective is to promote tourism at such forts," he added.
"We will not allow anyone to touch a single fort which is linked to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and his Hindavi Swarajya," he 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," he added.
Ms Singhal had said earlier that there are many forts which are not in the ASI's protected list and which are visited by people for picnics, hiking etc. "These are blessed with beautiful landscape and have history and tradition and can be used for tourism as we want to give impetus to local economy," she said.
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 Maharaj 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. The government shouldn't play with emotions of Shiv bhakts (devotees of Shivaji)," he said.
The NCP leader alleged that the Modi government at the Centre gave the historical Red Fort on lease and now the state government is following the suit.
MNS leader Anil Shidore said the government shouldn't commercialise the state's pride and history.
Congress leader Muzaffar Hussain said the government may even sell off the forts in future.
Clarifying the government's position after criticism over ''misuse'' of forts, Ms Singhal said the state has two types of forts: Category 1, which includes forts which are closely linked to the life of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and have other historical significance and Category 2, which includes around 300 forts.
Category 1 comes under the protected list and ASI looks after them, she said. The category 2 forts are not in the protected list and can be developed for tourism purpose, the official said.
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