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On Sunday, Ahmedabad celebrates its Foundation Day, with a puja on Manek Burj led by Mahant Chandan Nath, descendant of Manek Nath, the seer who prevailed on the city’s founder Ahmed Shah I to begin the construction of Manek Burj, the foundation bastion.
Ahmedabad was sitting on its potential to attract tourists in large numbers when the civic authorities decided to join the race for the tag of Heritage City by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the only city representing India in the list of the nominees. Delhi, which was the second nominee in 2015, lost out to Ahmedabad when the ministry of culture nominated it in January 2016. Suddenly, the authorities went into a flurry of activity of heritage conservation and preservation. The heritage cell in the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) began working overtime for the coveted tag that is expected to increase the tourist inflow of the city three times over. In July this year, the UNESCO is expected to give its verdict .
Ahmedabad has 54 ancient monument sites. Together, the city also boasts of housing thousands of urban architecture sites of heritage value. Many such structures are slowly fading out from the scene because of owners’ lack of interest in preservation.
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This stirred the AMC into action and it carried out a survey of properties of heritage value. After the survey, it offered the owners an attractive package of giving tradable development rights (TDRs) against developing heritage property to attract tourists. TDRs offer gives additional floor space index (FSI) to owners anywhere they want. But this scheme attracted a little over a dozen parties.
At present, there are 2,236 residential buildings as heritage properties and 449 institutional buildings marked as heritage buildings. This figure was arrived at after deliberations and discussions with owners over many years. Also, the AMC has identified 57 precincts (areas of perceived boundaries) which have been identified as heritage areas consisting of various houses and structures.
There does exist some old buildings in the city which qualify for inclusion in heritage properties, but have remained unnoticed by the AMC. A senior official in the AMC said the building housing the Government Girls Higher Secondary School near Raikhad is one such building. But it is lying in utter neglect. Another building in the heart of the city is R C High School building in Delhi Chakla, which is completing 150 years soon. The RC High School is privately owned where the property could be restored against the offer of giving TDRs to the school trust.
Meanwhile, the AMC is busy with repairs and restoration of some landmarks in the city. Among the sites that need urgent restoration is the six centuries-old remaining portion (about 4 km) of the city fort wall, especially between Nehru Bridge and Sardar Bridge. It is seven-metre high and two-metre wide. While the portion from Nehru Bridge to Shankar Bhavan is undergoing restoration in parts, the part from Nehru Bridge to Sardar Bridge calls for urgent repairs due to heavy damage caused by time and people. The AMC has taken up this project in parts from Khan Jahan Darwaja to Raikhad Darwaja and beyond toward Ellisbridge. Each of the four parts of the project is around Rs one crore to Rs 1.50 crore.
The hurdles in this work are shortage of trained artisans as raw material for the wall structure is available in Surendranagar district, says P V K Nair, deputy general manager (heritage), AMC. The AMC has been getting the work for the stone steps and embankment of the Kankaria lake (excluding the portion under Archaeological Survey of India) and restoring Khanpur gate done in stages. They will cost the civic body Rs 1.7 crore.
Dilip Gor, officer-on-special duty (heritage) at AMC, said that besides these, Calico Dome was also planned to be restored as a landmark of city heritage. “Moreover, we are planning to set up a building centre for the city in 2017-18 where we will train artisans in specialised work concerning restoration and repairs of heritage site, train them in use of specific techniques and materials used in heritage conservation,” he said. Gor added that the AMC was working out plans to introduce battery-operated vehicles in the city in line with pollution control, a necessary component of dossier for heritage tag. Asked about encroachments cleared from around heritage sites during the UNESCO team visit in September 2016 having cropped up again, he said, “They will be removed by the AMC, but being at a spot is not a criminal offence.”
However, the decision to build the new court on the west side of the historic clock tower in Bhadra Fort at the city centre, remains incongruent with the pursuit to preserve heritage and aesthetics. The construction of the court building is going in full swing after the state government received no-objection from the National Monuments Authority (NMA), New Delhi, in September 2016 for taking the building height to 35 metres, against the height of 45 metres applied for. The first approval was granted by NMA in April 2013 for a height of 25 metres, said C H Patel, in-charge executive engineer (city), in roads and buildings department. “The construction was sought to be banned on the ground that the building adjacent to court building, Azam Khan Sarai, was a protected monument which was within the prohibitory distance of 100 metres. but this plea was set aside as it was held by the NMA that the Sarai was not a notified monument,” added Patel.