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Delhi for World Heritage City Status
Apr 16, 2014

Before Delhi is accorded the tag of a World Heritage City, United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) will be sending a team of archaeological experts here in June 2014 to examine the heritage sites in New Delhi and Shahjahanabad which had been included in the dossier submitted by the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) in January this year.

These experts will be from South-East Asian countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Singapore and Hong Kong who are more familiar with Indian monuments than archaeological experts from Europe and the United States. To ensure unbiased scrutiny of these sites, none of the experts will be from India. After examining the sites, the experts will prepare a report. Based on the report, UNESCO will eventually decide whether to accord Delhi the status of a World Heritage City or not. The announcement would be made in June 2015.

Interestingly, INTACH has compartmentalised New Delhi, which includes landmarks like Rashtrapati Bhavan, Parliament House and Connaught Place, and other historical places like and Shahjahanabad built by Emperor Shah Jahan in the 17th Century.  In the dossier, INTACH have highlighted the fact that New Delhi and Shahjahanabad are two imperial cities. While British architect Edward Lutyens was instrumental in designing New Delhi, which is now known as Lutyens’ Delhi, Mughal emperor Shah Jahan played a pivotal role in outlining the contours of Shahjahanabad. Since Shahjahanabad is dotted with some aesthetically constructed havelis, INTACH is in the process of talking to their owners and restoring them. The dossier has been prepared in a way that Delhi is accorded the title of World Heritage City. India’s nominations have been rejected in the past because the presentations were not comprehensive. This time, INTACH has even included colourful pictures of the sights with their names in the dossier.

For India it is important that Delhi bags this title because it would give tourism a boost. There will be more visitors to Delhi from various countries to see the hundreds of havelis in Shahjahanabad. INTACH is planning to convert them into tourist lodges. More than tourism, INTACH want to instil pride among the inhabitants of Delhi.

The Centre had given its nod to Delhi’s bid for UNESCO World Heritage City status in February this year. Delhi had cited the historical city of Shahjahanabad and the more recent Lutyens’ Delhi in its bid for heritage status. 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’ Delhi. 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 architect Edwin Lutyens.

The greatest challenge is with regard to management in an Indian city. In cities that have this status, strict legislations protect 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.


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