SINCE 2010, four sites in J&K have made it to UNESCO’s “tentative list” to obtain the coveted World Heritage tag. But eight years on, the state government is yet to start the basic, mandatory process of preparing nomination files for these sites to be considered by the world heritage body.
Speaking to The Sunday Express, J&K Culture Secretary Mohammad Saleem Shishgar said the government was “yet to ascertain who would write the nomination dossier for these heritage sites”. Asked about the status of the nominations — the process usually takes two years — Shishgar said the preparation “is not even in the discussion stage as yet”.
J&K does not have a single site or monument with the UNESCO inscription of a World Heritage Site. The four sites on the “tentative list” are: Mughal Gardens in Kashmir (made it to the tentative list in 2010); Neolithic Settlement of Burzahom (2014); desert landscape of Ladakh (2015); and an ancient monastery and stupa in Harwan, which is among the Silk Route sites in India (2010).
According to UNESCO’s procedure for inscription, once a site has been named in a country’s “tentative list” for consideration by the World Heritage Committee, “a State Party can plan when to present a nomination file”.
“The World Heritage Centre offers advice and assistance to the State Party in preparing this file, which needs to be as exhaustive as possible, making sure the necessary documentation and maps are included,” the rules state. The dossier of nomination, essentially, needs to establish the site’s “Outstanding Universal Value”.
When contacted by The Sunday Express, J&K Minister for Public Works and Culture Naeem Akhtar said he was “not aware” of any dossier being prepared by the state.
UNESCO first provided inscription for monuments in India in 1983, with the Agra Fort, the caves in Ajanta and Ellora, and the Taj Mahal getting the tag of World Heritage site. And while experts point out that it’s the government’s job to ensure there is a clear management plan to obtain the heritage tag, officials say some steps have been taken in the case of the Mughal Gardens.
The state provided legal protection to the Mughal Gardens — Nishat Bagh, Shalimar Bagh, Achabal Bagh, Chashma Shahi, Pari Mahal and Verinag — in 2010 with the J&K Heritage Conservation and Preservation Act, 2010. Officials say this legislative cover is essential to make the case for a UNESCO inscription.
Chapter 3 of this Act, provides for the constitution of an authority and an executive committee for “preparation, approval and sanction of heritage conservation and preservation plans” of the state government. But this authority is yet to be constituted, and the state has still not framed a culture policy.
According to conservation architect Gurmeet S Rai, sites that receive the world heritage inscription “get attention”. “In the process of preparing the documents for nomination, you establish the universal value of these sites and therefore, it helps you reposition the significance of these monuments and sites for governments and for the people. But that process requires a clear management plan where you commit for protection and enhancement of these heritage sites,” said Rai.
Dr Priyaleen Singh, professor, architectural conservation, School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi, says providing the heritage tag essentially makes the government duty-bound to protect these monuments “in an informed manner”.
“The Mughal Gardens have been reduced to municipal parks. Its aesthetics were far more evolved earlier than they are today. They made a demand on all five senses, while today’s experience of being in the gardens is very bland, like lawns,” she said.