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In race for world heritage tag, city loses to Nalanda

Despite plea for Mumbai from Fadnavis to Modi, Centre sends the site of ancient varsity ruins in Bihar as its nomination to UNESCO.

Written by Shalini Nair | Mumbai | February 4, 2015 12:21:57 am
mumbai, gateway of india, unesco heritage city Mumbai’s iconic Gateway Of India.

Despite a letter written by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis to Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this year asking the Centre to endorse Mumbai’s nomination as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city may once again lose out on its chance of being bestowed the tag as the Centre has recently sent Nalanda’s nomination to UNESCO.

Union cultural affairs ministry officials say preference was given to ruins of ancient Nalanda University as the Maharashtra government refused to expand the scope to include certain properties as recommended by them.

Mumbai’s original nomination dossier for its Victorian Neo Gothic and Art Deco Ensemble, which was sent last year, is still pending with UNESCO and a final decision with regards to India’s official nomination will be taken in March this year.

However, union ministry sources confirm that without an endorsement by them, Mumbai stands little chance. “We had asked state government to include the Fort precinct up to CST station on one side and the Gateway of India on the other side, but they refused stating that such a vast area would be unmanageable. If this is given as an excuse to UNESCO, they will reject the nomination outright,” said a union cultural ministry official.

The dossier sent by the state highlights the confluence of two centuries of architectural genres around the 22-acre Oval Maidan. The 19th century Neo-Gothic buildings of Bombay High Court, Bombay University and Old Secretariat line the eastern side of Oval Maidan while the western side is flanked by 20th century Art Deco buildings of Marine Drive and parts of Backbay Reclamation.

In January 2014, Mumbai’s nomination was first sent to UNESCO along with Delhi’s nomination of Shahjanabad and Lutyens zone. However, when the ministry was asked by UNESCO in March to prioritize, its endorsement was for Delhi. In October last year, the ministry’s advisory committee on World Heritage Matters wrote to the Maharashtra chief secretary stating that the state’s application was rejected as they failed to adhere to the ministry’s appraisal note on redefining the boundaries and asked it to resubmit their dossier with the changes included.

“The Centre wanted us extend the boundaries in such as way that areas in Fort precinct such as the crowded Bora Bazaar and Edwardian-style Ballard Estate would have to be included for the nomination. This would not only dilute the USP of the Victorian Gothic and Art Deco theme and make the management of such a large area difficult, but it would also freeze development for the entire area,” said conservation architect Abha Narain Lambah who was involved in framing the dossier along with the Urban Design Research Institute (UDRI).

Senior state officials said the state’s chief concern was the fact that expanding the area would lead to a restriction on redevelopment of all the residential and commercial buildings that fall within its boundaries.

Mumbai was given the short-shrift in spite of the fact that Fadnavis made a strong case for its original dossier in his letter to Modi on January 7 this year. The letter read, “Maharashtra’s capital city deserves this feather in the cap and I urge you to intercede on our behalf and ask the Ministry to endorse the proposal to UNESCO in time to ensure its consideration this year.”

Fadnavis added that like London and some European cities, Mumbai too will enjoy the unique distinction of being a financial capital and World Heritage site.

“Mumbai has been waiting in the wings for long now. UNESCO has already given its completion check to the city’s dossier last year. It had a good management plan and the city has its heritage rules in place. After Delhi’s nomination last year, Mumbai should logically have been the next one. It is surprising that they chose Nalanda instead,” said Nayana Kathpalia from UDRI.

Presently, of the 32 World Heritage sites in India, only four are in Maharashtra – Ajanta caves, Ellora caves, Western Ghats and Mumbai’s historic railway station Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus.

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