Society

Dilli dur ast

A bird’s-eye view of Shahjahanabad.  

Just when it seemed that Delhi was on its way to getting the nomination of the World Heritage City from the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation, came the shocking news that the Union Government withdrew nomination on May 21. Just a month before UNESCO was to review the nominations for the prestigious tag, the Urban Ministry expressed reservations on the ground that the nomination would lead to a conflict of interest as far as infrastructure development was concerned.

Whether the move has to do with politics considering that the right-wing government at the Centre would not like to be seen extending support to a city which was built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan is a matter of conjecture. But the fact remains that Delhi would have gained and its stature as a heritage city would have led to more footfalls as far as international tourism was concerned, livelihood opportunities for the youth, who as kissagoi narrate stories inside the premises of iconic monuments like the Red Fort and implementation of projects to preserve our heritage. The rationale behind the nomination was to instil a sense of pride among Delhiites for their city as well as their monuments.

Even though the Delhi Government is contemplating speaking to the Union Government to alter its stand and make a fresh bid at the nomination, conservationists and those involved in the nomination process are clearly disillusioned with the eleventh hour recall and that too with no reasonable justification or rationale explanation about the U-turn.

Giving his take on this subject, Wajahat Habibullah, bureaucrat, and former PM’s nominee for INTACH, says, “The move needs to be reviewed.

The main thing is restoration of Shahjahanabad, which can still be carried out so that the grandeur of the Mughal’s capital can be highlighted. World over we have excellent examples like Roman’s capital maintained for such a long time. The tag would also have attracted international experts, who could have helped restore Shahjahanabad’s structures, gardens and the canal system.”

Noting that civic amenities at Shahjahanabad need to be improved, Habibullah, former divisional commissioner at Jammu and Kashmir, says amenities for the common man living in this area of the Capital needs to be looked into. “Civic amenities like electricity, water and drainage needs to be looked into.”

The nomination would have kept alive the grandeur of the ancient city of Shahjahanabad and more importantly, work on restoration of havelis and heritage properties would have been carried out. and according to ASI Director (Archaeology) Syed Jamal Hasan, Delhi is a historic city thanks to the praiseworthy efforts of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. “He had an eye for detailing and was a great patron of art and culture. Normally, Mughal architecture is well exemplified in forts, palaces and mausoleums of Lahore, Ajmer, Agra but Delhi’s uniqueness is due to Shah Jahan, who saw to it that Hindustan’s capital was shifted from Agra to Delhi. He built the city of his dreams with great care, sensitivity and passion. The fact that the Union Government decided to pull back Delhi’s nomination for getting the tag of world heritage city is a huge setback. The fact that the government feels that urbanisation will get hindered doesn’t hold any water because the facade of a heritage city can be maintained like in Italy and other places within our country. Overall, the people in Shahajahanabad do not bother about such things but for heritage lovers, who constitute five per cent, this news is disturbing.

Apart from ASI, the decision to rollback a decision is a big setback to heritage lovers, who have been working on their own to create awareness, as well as non government organisation Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, which prepared the voluminous dossier showcasing the exact location of the heritage structures existing inside Shahjahanabad.

It conducted a survey and identified 750 havelis which have the potential to be converted into tourist lodges. Its volunteers -- the Walled City’s residents -- worked methodically like a team to ensure that they give all details like addresses of heritage buildings, their history. It was due to their unstinted support, perseverance and sincerity to work for conservation of heritage that the NGO was able to produce the voluminous dossier, which was submitted to UNESCO.

The locals, youngsters, helped experts document every labyrinthine lane, monument and haveli of Shahjahanabad which was comprehensively presented through images and maps in the dossier.

Like dozens of youngsters of Delhi, Irshad Alam, who lives in his ancestral Haji Ibrahim haveli at Turkman Gate, is custodian of the intangible heritage of Shahjahanabad. He earns livelihood by narrating stories in the magnificent city built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and has worked in preparing the dossier. “If Delhi had bagged the coveted title of the world heritage city then we would got work. We have not had the benefit of education but we are skilled in our job of storytelling. This move would have increased domestic and foreign tourism and given us resources to carry our work in an independent manner.”

INTACH’s Delhi chapter convenor Prof. A.G.K Menon and his dedicated team of researchers and scholars prepared the voluminous dossier that was sent to the Union Culture Ministry, UNESCO meticulously studies the contents and examine the veracity.

“The big roadblock is in the minds of decision makers who think that conservation is anti-development. This is a very immature perception but it unfortunately prevails at the highest levels of our government as far as policy is concerned. Delhi’s nomination was withdrawn by the government at the last moment for this reason. The opposition between conservation and development is just not true as it is evident by the development that takes place in other heritage cities of the world.”

Revealing that the Delhi Government was not consulted by the Union Government when it decided to withdraw the nomination, Prof. Menon says there has been no dialogue or discussion on the decision taken by the Union Government. “And yet the process of nomination had received the approval of all stakeholders, both Central and State. The suo motto action taken by the Union Government raises disturbing questions of the nature of federalism in governance. Under the circumstance, even if the State Government wants to submit the bid it may not by up to them to decide.”

“The report was submitted to UNESCO in January 2014? and the results were to 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 in 2012 to prepare the dossier in support of the Capital’s nomination.

Nomination is a complex exercise and India’s nominations have been rejected in the past because the presentations were inadequate and inaccurate.

He explained that Delhi was the Capital first under Mughal rulers and then during British colonial rule.

“Shah Jahan changed his Capital from Agra to Delhi because it had the famousdargahof 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 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.”

Syed Delhi is a historic city thanks to the praiseworthy efforts of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. He had an eye for detailing and was a great patron of art and culture. Normally, Mughal architecture is well exemplified in forts, palaces and mausoleums of Lahore, Ajmer, Agra but Delhi’s uniqueness is due to Shah Jahan, who saw to it that Hindustan’s capital changes from Agra to Delhi. He built the city of his dreams with great care, sensitivity and passion. The fact that the Union Government decided to pull back Delhi’s nomination for getting the tag of world heritage city is a huge setback. The fact that the government feels that urbanisation will get hindered doesn’t hold any water because façade of a heritage city can be maintained like in Italy and other places within our country. Overall, the people in Shahajahanabad do not bother about such things but for heritage lovers, who constitute five per cent, this news is disturbing.



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Printable version | May 2, 2021 4:57:59 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/delhi-no-more-a-world-heritage-city-dilli-dur-ast/article7268348.ece

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