At the recent 40th session of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee in Istanbul, the Indian delegation was led by Ruchira Kamboj, India’s Permanent Representative to UNESCO. Back home in Paris after the session, which was tumultuous and successful at the same time, Kamboj recalls the “singular honour” to lead the side that secured a record hat-trick. Three Indian sites — Nalanda University ruins in Bihar, Khangchendzonga Park in Sikkim and the Capitol Complex in Chandigarh — have become part of the World Heritage List. Excerpts from an email interview with her:
Since ICOMOS (the UNESCO’s technical body) had raised doubts over Nalanda’s bid, how sure was the Indian delegation of being able to convince them?
The agency had recommended that the nomination dossier on Nalanda be deferred, and re-submitted for a future consideration. Convinced, however, of the outstanding universal value of the site, we set the case in its perspective before the 21-member World Heritage Committee, which, in the final analysis, overturned the decision of ICOMOS. This was not a one-day or one-meeting process, but had been a work in progress for the last couple of months.
After Nalanda’s inscription came through, was the Indian side more hopeful of the other two?
The case of Nalanda Mahavihara was challenging, having received a deferral verdict from the technical body, whereas both Chandigarh — which was one part of a trans-national nomination, as well as the Khangchendzonga National Park had received favourable mentions from the technical bodies, leading to a smoother passage of events in these cases.
Would you call it the most successful session for India so far?
This was, without doubt, a clean sweep of three in a single session for the very first time and, hence, a significant session for us.
Amid the turmoil in Istanbul, how did everything fall into place at the session?
While there was a pause in proceedings for a day owing to the exceptional events in Turkey, work was fast-tracked the next day to complete the nomination dossiers in record time, with the more intricate issues of substance being deferred to a later date. There was a general agreement that this was the best way to take matters ahead.
Which among the three took most time? And which was the most difficult to make happen?
Nalanda Mahavihara required meticulous preparations leading to the committee meeting, given that the verdict of ICOMOS had to be turned around 360 degrees.
The Capitol Complex of Chandigarh was not easy either, requiring a coordination with six partners, after two earlier unsuccessful attempts. Khangchengdzonga was not handed to us on a platter either — there was a lot of homework with the advisory bodies before we got this right, this being our first mixed (natural and cultural) world heritage site.
Personally, how do you think these inscriptions will boost tourism in India or cement its position culturally?
There is an immediate profile with the prestigious World Heritage tag, which should lead to an increase in tourist footfall. With the hat-trick at Istanbul, we now have 35 nominations in the World Heritage List, ranking among the top five countries.