For weeks, the pendulum kept swinging between Delhi and Mumbai. But to the surprise of many, the government finally nominated Gujarat’s Ahmedabad to UNESCO for ‘World Heritage City’ status. The results of this year’s nomination will be announced in June 2017.
There are more than 250 UNESCO-recognised ‘World Heritage Cities’ across the world, but none in India though the country has several cities of historical importance. Every year, UNESCO calls for nominations from countries — only one entry is allowed per country.
After the UNESCO call, interested states prepare nomination dossiers, essentially a pitch for the heritage tag, and send them to the culture ministry. The ministry chooses one city from among the contenders and sends it to UNESCO as its official nomination – this year, it’s Old Ahmedabad. After UNESCO confers the heritage tag on a city, it puts certain cities that don’t make the cut on its “tentative list”. Ahmedabad, Mumbai and Delhi are on UNESCO’s tentative list, which means they have been nominated before. India has been sending entries since 2010-11 but has had no luck.
What the tag brings
UNESCO defines World Heritage as the “designation for places… of outstanding universal value to humanity… to be protected for future generations”. The UNESCO tag brings brand value to the city and is expected to add significantly to tourism footfall, which, in turn, is associated with growth of employment in allied industries. Besides, the tag comes with financial assistance from the international body. Rome, Paris, Cairo and Edinburgh cities with the UN heritage tag.
Ahmedabad made the cut since it was the only Indian city, besides Delhi and Mumbai, to figure on UNESCO’s ‘tentative list’. The dossier prepared by the state said the old city of Ahmedabad, “inhabited since the 11th century”, has 36 ASI-protected structures, hundreds of pols (housing clusters) and a heritage cell (the only Indian city to have such a specialised organisation for historical sites). Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma dismissed talk of Ahmedabad being selected for its “Modi connection” and said it was the city’s “clear-cut proposal” that sealed it. Sources in the ministry said Varanasi, the PM’s constituency, was also in the race.
The Delhi fiasco
Last year, barely weeks before the final results were to be announced, the NDA government wrote to UNESCO, asking it to put on hold Delhi’s nomination, which had been submitted by the UPA government. The nomination, which had mentioned Shahjahanabad in Old Delhi and Lutyens’ Bungalow Zone (LBZ) in New Delhi, had been withdrawn after the Urban Development Ministry cited objections in view of the proposed redevelopment of LBZ. The culture ministry under the UPA had filed the nomination in 2012, but the final dossier, prepared by the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), with which the Sheila Dikshit government had signed an MoU in 2008, was sent to UNESCO in 2014.
The Mumbai push
Since Delhi’s nomination was stuck, Mumbai was thought to be the natural contender for this year. Its dossier highlighted the “blend of two centuries of architectural genres” around the 22-acre Oval Maidan — the 19th century Neo-Gothic buildings and the 20th century Art Deco buildings of Marine Drive. In fact, Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis and actor Amitabh Bachchan had written letters to the government and the PM to push for Mumbai’s case. But that didn’t work.
While Ahmedabad’s nomination will be considered by UNESCO for next year’s ‘Heritage City’ tag, the ruins of ancient Nalanda are vying for the ‘Heritage Site’ tag this year (June 2016). Besides, Chandigarh is already part of a ‘transnational nomination’ of the works of Le Corbusier for UNESCO heritage status, along with Corbusier’s works in France, Switzerland, Belgium, Japan, Germany and Argentina.