With the recent notification of 114 heritage buildings in the Boulevard in Puducherry as protected structures, the Puducherry government has taken another step in its bid to get a UNESCO World Heritage City tag.
At present, Ahmedabad and Jaipur are the only cities in India to make it to the UNESCO World Heritage Cities list.
Taking a leaf out of Ahmedabad’s success, a delegation from Puducherry has visited the city twice now, to learn about the process of securing a World Heritage City tag.
488 heritage structures
Nestled on the Coromandal coast, Puducherry, a former French outpost has a significant number of heritage structures in its distinct French and Tamil quarters. The city has about 488 such buildings. The 114 buildings in the first list that were notified include government-owned buildings, followed by institution-owned and French buildings. Work on the notification of the second list of buildings is underway.
According to Ashish Trambadia, director of Ahmedabad World Heritage City Trust (a trust of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation), “The delegation from Puducherry visited Ahmedabad to understand the process of applying for a World Heritage city tag, the guidelines required and measures for the same.” Speaking to The Hindu, during an ongoing visit to Gujarat organised by the Press Information Bureau, he said, “The one good thing that we (Ahmedabad) learnt from Puducherry even after getting the tag from UNESCO was that Puducherry has a restrictive covenant against the demolition of buildings.”
Mr. Trambadia said that generally, any regulation may impose restrictions on new development, but Puducherry is the only city that has a restriction in place which says that a building cannot be demolished even if it is not a listed heritage structure. “Ahmedabad too has restrictions in place on making modifications to heritage structures based on their grading and to encourage conservation, the Municipal Corporation of Ahmedabad has been providing incentives to owners. The Corporation has issued Transferable Development Rights (TDR) for the properties listed as heritage structures,” he explained.
On UNESCO requirements, Mr. Trambadia said, “Every UNESCO inscription must fit into certain ideas which are called ‘outstanding universal values’. While the walled city (Ahmedabad) is one of the finest examples of Indo-Islamic architecture, Puducherry has its own values, such as layers of development.”
The historic cities of Melaka and George Town are not known for their own architecture, but are known to have accumulated cultures from different places. “These places were like trade towns,” he said. “Similarly, Puducherry too has layers of history – the Tamil and French quarters and communities, their way of living in the city, right from the French period to the Independence period and modern development. These layers of history that have accumulated cultures over the years are unique and have their universal value,” he explained
Saswat Bandhyopadhyay, a professor of urban planning, also spoke of Puducherry’s unique features. “The city of Puducherry has an international status and a number of people visit the city for its association with The Mother and Sri Aurobindo. Most of these heritage classifications require that the city has an Outstanding Universal Value. This is not only about documenting or classifying the heritage buildings per se, but the preparation of a dossier that has to highlight why the city (Puducherry) is so unique. The city has to allocate a budget, prepare and identify areas and start work on preparing the dossier,” he said.
Steps in the right direction
Ashok Panda, co-convenor of the Puducherry chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), said Puducherry has already taken a leap to achieve the UNESCO status, by reaching three milestones. “The government has notified the heritage regulation to protect heritage sites and heritage precincts. It has also constituted the State Level Heritage Conservation Committee and has notified the first list of heritage structures,” he pointed out.
The Vysial Street restoration project, carried out by the Government of Puducherry and Intach under the Asia Urbs Programme in 2002-2004, was a unique undertaking that received the UNESCO award in 2009. The Vysial Street restoration is a good example of how cities can get incentives for their conservation. The project covered urban greening, restoration of private heritage buildings under the “matching grant” scheme and restoration of the Vysial Street stretch between M.G. Road and Mission Street.
According to him, “Intach, in association with the Puducherry government, is now working on a tentative list while the Puducherry Planning Authority (PPA) will simultaneously start working on the Heritage Management Plan. The work is likely to be completed by the middle of this year.”
A number of preparations have to be made to make it to the tentative list of UNESCO. The preparation of the dossier is a major exercise and to be included in the World Heritage List, the sites must be of outstanding universal value and must meet at least one of the 10 selection criteria set by UNESCO. Getting on the tentative listing is the most challenging task now, he said.
Mr. Panda pointed out that if the nomination by UNESCO happens, it will put Puducherry on the international map. Puducherry will then have to plan urban development as per UNESCO guidelines.