After an interim meeting between the Government of India and the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) in Paris in November last year, a list of questions has been sent back relating to the dossier on the Victorian and Art Deco district around Oval Maidan that is seeking to get a World Heritage tag. ICOMOS is an NGO associated with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
According to government sources, the questions pertaining to the dossier need to be answered by February, after which a final decision will be taken in June this year. The questions pertain to the upkeep and maintenance of the area and the state government’s commitment relating to the same besides other questions on the delineation of the area.
In September last week, an expert had visited India on behalf of UNESCO to inspect the site. Before coming to Mumbai, the expert, Dr Yukio Nishimura, had visited Delhi and met officials of the Ministry of Culture, since it was the Government of India that had given the endorsement for the heritage dossier. Nishimura met the director general of the Archeological Survey of India, among others in Delhi, and some Maharashtra government officials in Mumbai.
Once a nomination is received, there are two levels of evaluation — test review of the dossier by the World Heritage Centre in Paris followed by a site visit to inspect the building and the architecture.
According to the sources, the dossier has got support of several residents’ associations in Churchgate, The Oval and Cooperage areas, and Nariman Point. The entire process of assessing and declaring a particular area a World Heritage Site is expected to take around five to six months.
The nomination dossier emphasises the importance of the area and the reasons for seeking such a nomination. The Executive Summary, which forms part of the dossier for Oval Maidan, states, “Mumbai’s Victorian Gothic and Art Deco developments, with their moorings in Western styles and illustrating the latest international trends and technology were adapted and indigenized through a collaboration of European and Indian architects, engineers and craftsmen is as an example of shared heritage at its best.”
The Executive Summary also lists out the reason for protection and management of the area. It says, “…the Victorian buildings are individually designated as heritage structures and the Fort area is a Heritage precinct with Oval Maidan designated a historic open space…the city has ably demonstrated citizen’s participation in conservation. Mumbai has thus demonstrated over two decades a robust system of management and protection of its urban heritage.”
In terms of the statement of integrity, the summary says the area retains a high degree of visual and planning integrity. “It retains the integrity as an urban ensemble representing 19th and early 20th century town planning and architectural development…The fact that both the architectural genres have survived in their most complete form along with the original intent of the urban form indicates a high degree of integrity of the Site.”
“Together the Victorian and Art Deco buildings continue in their authentic use as originally envisaged. The Victorian Buildings continue to serve as living institutions, courts, offices, banks, public libraries and the Art Deco buildings continue their authentic use as apartment buildings and cinemas,” it further states.
This area has already been declared a heritage precinct by the state government. It has Gothic Buildings like the Bombay High Court and Rajabai Tower on one side and the Art Deco buildings on the other. In fact, Marine Drive has the second largest Art Deco buildings in the world after Miami. Construction started from 1860 onwards after the old fort walls were torn down under the governorship of Sir Bartle Frere.
If Unesco gives its approval, Oval Maidan will be the third heritage site after the Elephanta Caves and Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus) in and around Mumbai.