Centre Approves Delhi Bid for World Heritage City Status

By Aditi Vatsa
7 February, 2014 in Journalism of Heritage Cities

The Centre has given its nod to Delhi’s bid for UNESCO World Heritage City status. Delhi has cited the historical city of Shahjahanabad and the more recent Delhi by Edwin Lutyens in its bid for heritage status. The deadline for submitting entries ended last week.

While Delhi’s bid has been sent as the final entry, Mumbai is also in contention as an alternative. “January 31 was the last date for sending entries,” said conservation architect Shikha Jain, a member-secretary of the advisory committee on world heritage constituted by the Ministry of Culture. “In a meeting held earlier this month, the government cleared Delhi’s proposal. Mumbai has been kept as an alternative.” The committee cleared the proposal.

On the choice of Delhi, Jain said, “It was a collective decision. We have to look at whether a proposal meets the World Heritage operational guidelines, especially with regard to management. Over the last couple of years, Delhi had revised its proposal.” Initially, of the seven historical cities in Delhi, four figured in the dossier prepared for the bid. Following consultations with international experts and in line with UNESCO guidelines, the list was pruned to just Shahjahanabad and Lutyens’s Delhi.

“Narrowing it down to these two capitals and focusing on a storyline worked in Delhi’s favour. But the proposals by Mumbai and [Gujarati city] Ahmedabad were also good and could be considered next year,” Jain said.

Called ‘Imperial Cities of Delhi’, Delhi’s dossier focuses on Old Delhi’s Shahjahanabad area — which served as the capital under Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan from 1638 to 1648 — and the British capital planned by Lutyens.

According to AGK Menon, Delhi convenor of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, which prepared the dossier, these two cities stand out in a number of ways: “Both capitals were built as new cities… Both capitals still function… Both are living cities. They are not ruins or dead cities”.

Heritage experts said UNESCO’s final decision will be known only next year. “This June, they will appoint people for evaluating the dossiers. After scrutiny, they could seek clarifications. A decision will be made only in June 2015,” an expert said.

Listing the challenges that might emerge, Jain said, “The greatest is with regard to management in an Indian city. In cities that have this status, strict legislation protects the heritage structures. In India, we have not looked at urban heritage in that light until now. The rigorous screening process will raise such concerns.”

Menon, however, felt it was unfair to compare India with developed countries. “India is a developing country, a democracy which is difficult to govern. This does not mean we do not have heritage. We cannot be compared with Europe. All these factors have to be taken into account…”