Union Tourism Minister KJ Alphons on Tuesday defended the Centre’s “Adopt a Heritage” scheme, pointing out that Italy had allowed a footwear firm to restore the 2,000-year-old Colosseum in Rome, PTI reported. Alphons was answering queries in New Delhi about the controversy the scheme had created after the government allowed the Dalmia Bharat Group, a cement company, to handle the Red Fort’s maintenance.

The scheme was launched in September to allow private and public sector corporations to adopt some of India’s top heritage sites. The companies were to be responsible for building, operating and maintaining tourism infrastructure in exchange for brand visibility at the monuments.

The Centre is planning to hand over the Taj Mahal’s maintenance to a company, Alphons said. “If the Colosseum can be adopted and managed by a footwear company [Tod’s] why not the Taj Mahal?” he asked.

The 2011 deal between former Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno and Diego Della Valle, the owner of Italian leather goods company Tod’s, had also come under heavy criticism after the city allowed the company to use the monument’s logo on shoes, bags and other products for up to 15 years. The company was also allowed to stamp its logo on entry tickets.

Alphons’ comments come a few days after the Supreme Court, on June 11, had pulled up the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government at the Centre for not acting fast to protect the 16th-century marble mausoleum in Agra, and said its preservation was a “hopeless cause”.

The tourism minister urged more non-government organisations to become “monument mitras [friends]”. He said the scheme would provide them limited visibility at the monument they adopt and on the Incredible India website.

The Centre has approved 31 agencies to adopt 95 monuments across the country, PTI reported.

In April, the decision to hand over the Red Fort’s maintenance to the Dalmia Bharat Group for five years led to a lot of criticism. The Centre later clarified that the iconic monument had not been handed over to the company. The following month, the Centre agreed to remove four sites in Assam from the project after protests by various groups and reservations expressed by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led state government.