Standing Still

Last month,Delhi packed its tales from the past and sealed them in a dossier.

Written by AmritaJain | Published: April 2, 2012 3:02 am

Last month,Delhi packed its tales from the past and sealed them in a dossier. Pictures capturing the centuries-old structures — palaces,gardens,domes and towers — were tied together to be sent to UNESCO in the quest for a World Heritage City status. But the file was not sent. Instead,the Ministry of Culture and the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) created a new body,the World Heritage Advisory Committee,which is now reviewing the dossier and hoping to send it in February 2013.

Delhi has been vying for this status for almost four years now. Its 155 national monuments and over a thousand culturally rich places make it an apt candidate for the coveted status. Yet,the Capital is languishing in the tentative nomination list alongside a new candidate,Ahmedabad.

For several historians and authors,India is an enchanting muse. Its history works in layers. Delhi is said to have nine lives — dynasties came and went and left a mark on the city. Kolkata is famous for its cultural vibrancy — Jews,Armenians,Muslims,Hindus and Chinese occupy their spaces,Jaipur and Ahmedabad impress with their forts while Mumbai’s colonial and Hyderabad’s Mughal influences give them a romantic nature. Yet,when one searches for the name of an Indian city in the list of over 200 World Heritage Cities,one draws a blank.

A World Heritage Status translates into greater tourist inflow and knowledge exchange,among other benefits . Every year,countries are invited to send two nominations for the World Heritage Status. Countries fill the necessary forms and,on that basis,UNESCO prepares a tentative list. Countries on the tentative list become very active around February. This is when they send a dossier with all details that can push their case. Four cities were awarded the status in the last two years. These are the twin cities of Melaka and Georgetown in Malaysia,and Mantua and Sabbioneta in Italy.

In July 2011,INTACH compiled the nomination dossier and submitted it to ASI for review. Unfortunately,the review process was halted because of the constitution of the World Heritage Advisory Committee,a 17-member committee,which is currently reviewing the dossier. Professor AGK Menon,Convenor,INTACH,Delhi,says,“Last year,we had the dossier ready so that the nomination process could move ahead. I am concerned about the delay.”

One can’t blame the bureaucracy alone. One of the yardsticks of the 10-point criteria of UNESCO is that a heritage city should encapsulate a significant development of human race. Indian cities today look like they are lost between the past and the present,emerging out as confused figures. Most cities are divided into old and new,each reflecting the contrast even more widely,and none supporting the other. “We don’t have any city that has been maintained well. It’s easy to take care of heritage structures but making a heritage city needs collaboration from the citizens as well as urban development agencies. How does one maintain a heritage city when it’s getting into an urban sprawl?” says Shikha Jain,Member of the World Heritage Advisory Committee.

In 2006,Chandigarh had made it to UNESCO’s tentative list of the “20th century Urban-scapes Category”. But till today,it has not climbed up in the submission procedure. However,Ahmedabad paints a promising picture. “This is the first time we have filed a nomination form. The work for the dossier has begun and we plan to submit it in February next year,” says Manvita Baradi,Convenor,INTACH,Ahmedabad.

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