Delhi meets basic world heritage criteria, says expert

June 24th, 2009 - 11:19 am ICT by IANS  

By Madhusree Chatterjee
New Delhi, June 24 (IANS) Delhi, a city dotted with historical monuments and said to have been continuously inhabited since the 6th century, already fulfils two of the basic criteria for Unesco’s World Heritage City status, says a leading conservation expert.

“Unesco requires that a city should be of significance to human civilisation to get World Heritage City status and Delhi fulfils it,” said A.G.K. Menon, convenor of the Delhi chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (Intach).

Getting the status also needs an efficient town management plan, which the city has in the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) Master Plan for 2021, he said.

Menon is the brain behind a mammoth heritage tourism project, Delhi Heritage Routes, to link six heritage precincts in the capital. It is part of a long-term plan to get the World Heritage City tag for Delhi.

The city, explained Menon, was of significance to the human civilisation for it had been the capital of the country for several hundred years. “In 1639, Mughal emperor Shah Jahan built a walled city in Delhi known as Shahjanabad which was the seat of power in the Mughal Sultanate from 1649 to 1857. After independence, it once again became the capital of modern India.

“Evidence for most of historic Delhi is available in the city although parts of it have been extensively rebuilt over the past few decades. Old Delhi is an important part of the contemporary city and contributes to its image and identity. Its historical record is of significant achievement,” Menon said.

History has it that Delhi has been continuously inhabited since the 6th century. In the epic Mahabharata, a part of the capital was Indraprastha, the seat of power of the Pandavas.

Delhi has three world heritage sites - The Red Fort, Humayun’s Tomb and the Qutab Minar - which is “a significant achievement”. “The capital also has two heritage zones - Shahjahanabad and Lutyen’s bungalows,” he said.

The World Heritage City of Edinburgh that has been the capital of Scotland since the 15th century has two World Heritage Sites - the medieval old town and the new Georgian town - something that helped it wrangle the World Heritage City status from Unesco.

The second criteria is the town management master plan.

“The DDA Master Plan for 2021 has taken the city’s heritage profile into account by promising compatible use of the city’s heritage precincts and buildings to create a heritage city. Unesco rules stipulate there should be a sustainable urban management plan that should conserve and promote heritage. Delhi has one,” Menon said.

With the help of Intach the DDA has listed 1,208 heritage buildings - which are more than 100 years old. The Archaeological Survey of India manages 174 monuments and the state archaeological department looks after 250 monuments.

The city also has three archaeological parks at Mehrauli, Sultangarhi and Tughlaqabad.

The UN guidelines also say the significance of the “historic city” will have to be understood by its people. Besides, it has to be a hub of viable heritage tourism and easily accessible.

Delhi at the moment draws more than 40 percent of the total tourists to the country, along with domestic tourists, every year. It is connected to almost all the key cities across the globe.

“Delhi could become like any Italian heritage town - Rome, Florence, Venice - or even Bath in England. Residents of world heritage cities often fear that modern city and life would be disadvantaged because of the emphasis on heritage. But it is not so. The old and the new Delhi have been co-existing harmoniously for several decades,” he said.

What took Delhi 10 years to wake up to the fact that the capital was eligible for World Heritage City status?

“The ASI alone was looking after the heritage buildings till 1999. The focus was on individual structures of national importance. It was a colonial mindset which took us some time to shed and look at the city in terms of heritage precincts,” Menon said.

“There was also red tape and legalities involved. We had to lobby with the government for new heritage laws, list the old buildings and draw up a viable blueprint for conservation and development before we think of a world heritage city status for the capital,” he said.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at madhu.c@ians.in)

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