Prof. A.G.K Menon talks to Madhur Tankha about his campaign for getting the World Heritage City tag for Delhi.
If Delhi manages to get the coveted tag of World Heritage City from the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation, then the credit will go to non-government organisation Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) and to its Delhi chapter convenor Prof. A.G.K Menon.
Prof. Menon and his dedicated team of researchers and scholars prepared the voluminous dossier that was sent to the Union Culture Ministry.
Prof. Menon, an architect, urban planner and conservation consultant, said the Culture Ministry has already sent the dossier to UNESCO, which will meticulously study the contents and examine the veracity.
“The report was submitted to UNESCO last week and the results will be announced in June 2015. Evaluation will be done and there is a mechanism to look at whether the city’s heritage is of outstanding universal value. This means whether the heritage is important for humanity as a whole. Delhi’s heritage might be okay for Indian civilization. But is it of interest to the citizens of other countries?” asked Prof. Menon.
It all started when INTACH organised an exhibition at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts in 2010. Delhi: A Living Heritage highlighted the fact that the city was home to amazing heritage. And the NGO followed it up by signing an MoU with the Delhi Government to prepare the dossier in support of the Capital’s nomination.
“Nomination is a complex process. India’s nominations have been rejected in the past because the presentations were inadequate and inaccurate. But this time we are confident because we have left no stone unturned in ensuring that the dossier is accepted. The rationale to nominate Delhi as a World Heritage City is to instil pride in the citizens of Delhi,” said Prof. Menon.
He explained that Delhi was the Capital first under Mughal rulers and then during British colonial rule.
“Shah Jahan changed his Capital from Lahore to Delhi because it had the famous dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, seen as a revered spiritual head. His great-grandfather Humayun was buried in Delhi. The British decided to change their Capital from Calcutta to Delhi because they wanted to be seen as legitimate successors.”
Pointing out that Shahjahanabad was just two per cent of Delhi, Prof. Menon said it was important to preserve its valuable heritage. “Ironically, some people in Delhi have the incorrect notion that Shahjahanabad has been reduced to slums. You cannot compare it with Paris, but that does not mean that Shahjahanabad does not have heritage. We conducted a survey there and identified 750 havelis which can be converted into tourist lodges. There is the famous Chunawali ki haveli .”
INTACH is in talks with the municipal corporation to remove all dangling telephone wires that spoil the look of Shahjahanabad. “We have suggested that these wires can be kept underground.”
Comparison between Lutyen’s Delhi and Shahjahanabad are inevitable. “Both are vibrant and living heritage, yet they are poles apart culturally.”