The conundrum of urban heritage management in India the need for transformative reforms – eGov Magazine


The World Heritage Convention aims to protect the most remarkable cultural and natural heritage sites on the planet. The countries (States Parties) which have acceded to the World Heritage Convention accept the obligation to manage World Heritage properties in their territory according to the highest standards of protection and periodically report on the measures taken. Globally, UNESCO has listed 1,154 sites as “World Heritage sites”, of which India has a total of 40 such sites until July 2021, writes Teacher. Saswat Bandyopadhyay, Team Leader, World Bank – Cities Alliance Funding, Inclusive Heritage Cities Development Program, Phase I, India and Coordinator of the Heritage Cities Group, Peer-to-peer exchange network (PEARL).

The recent nomination of Dholavira as the 40th UNESCO World Heritage Site in India has been met with more enthusiasm and celebration across the country. Similar enthusiasm was also displayed with the nomination of the Historic City of Ahmedabad in 2017 and the Walled City of Jaipur in 2019. However, after the initial euphoria of being inscribed as a ‘World Heritage Site’ UNESCO ”, very few follow-up actions are visible. on the ground in these “World Heritage Cities” in India.

According to some local reports, the city of Ahmedabad is now far from fulfilling its commitments as a UNESCO World Heritage city. Similar reports also emanate from the walled city of Jaipur. Like the recent case of Liverpool, these two cities risk losing their World Heritage status if no substantial follow-up action is taken to manage their heritage assets.

According to the 2011 census, India had more than 7,935 urban settlements, of which 4,041 were statutory cities, the majority of which are blessed with an incredibly rich cultural, built and natural heritage. However, India in general, and its cities in particular, continue to struggle to manage these assets and continue to lose them at an alarming rate.

It is interesting to note that India has a long heritage for the protection of heritage assets. The Archaeological Society of India was founded in 1861 with the mandate to “oversee a comprehensive search over the whole country and prepare a systematic record and description of all archaeological and other remains which are unique for their antiquity, their historical interests and their beauty ”.

Read also: Preserving heritage to achieve sustainable urban development

This was followed by the Indian Treasure Trove Act of 1878, which is still operational and useful in building its antique wealth. The Ancient Monuments Act was enacted in 1904, followed by the Antiques Exports Ban Act of 1947. The Ancient Monuments Act was re-enacted as the Ancient Monuments Act and the Sites Act. and archaeological remains from 1958. It was modified and updated in 2010.

Likewise, article 67 of the union list, article 12 of the state list and article 40 of the concurrent list of the constitution underline the need for conservation and protection of the heritage.

While these legislative instruments have been largely successful in safeguarding the ancient sites and monuments of India, however, the legal and financial instruments for the management of heritage assets in urban areas have remained rather sketchy.

The conundrum of urban heritage management in India

Over the decades, the very definition of heritage has also undergone fundamental changes, moving from its former confinement of tangible monuments to a variety of tangible and intangible elements, located in diverse contexts. The laws creating municipal corporations in India do not specifically mention that the protection of the heritage is a subject of the competence of the municipal corporation. Consequently, municipalities do not consider it their responsibility to safeguard heritage assets and properties.

When the 74th Constitutional Amendment was passed, a list of 18 functions was enumerated in the 12th Schedule under Section 243W which would be vested in the local urban body. However, there is no mention of “heritage”, with the exception of entry 13, which mentions, “the promotion of cultural, educational and aesthetic aspects”.

In response to this regulatory vacuum, some states such as Rajasthan Gujarat, Andhra, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Puducherry and municipal corporations such as Hyderabad, Ahmedabad and Mumbai have attempted to develop their own context-specific regulatory and institutional frameworks. In 2011, the Government of India’s Urban and Rural Planning Organization (TCPO) also launched a heritage regulation model to guide these state-specific initiatives. However, most of these initiatives have remained sporadic and integration at the national level has not been attempted so far.

In India, public discourse related to heritage management is largely dominated by conservation architects who typically specialize in the conservation of facades, historic buildings and artefacts. In the current context, the subject of urban heritage management requires a complex set of skills and knowledge relating to structural engineering, municipal laws, infrastructure technologies, disaster management, urban planning, finance and governance, in addition to conservation knowledge.

Old city of Ahmedabad

So far, the professional education and training of conservation professionals has not been able to respond to these emerging complexities and challenges of urban heritage management in the context of emerging economies like India. Much of the narratives and discourses on heritage conservation are drawn from Nordic contexts like Europe and America and local theorizing has not developed.

The limited exposure to the issues of climate change, poverty, public systems and governance, infrastructure, combined with ultra-creepy attitudes, has led to narrowly focused discourses, without bringing major added value to the global paradigm of management of urban heritage in the country. The other major challenge of wealth management in India is the issue of wealth economics and finance. The conservation and management of heritage assets are resource intensive. For example, the majority of the 3,000 listed heritage buildings in Ahmedabad are privately owned. A very conservative estimate of the conservation of these buildings would vary between Rs 2,100 and 3,000 crore. Added to this is the cost of restoring public spaces, public services, fire and disaster safety equipment, etc. Rs 1000-1200 crore.

There is a political vacuum as to the role of society and the state in maintaining these “private” heritage assets. However, there have been some sporadic attempts to use land value capture tools such as “heritage TORs” to incentivize private owners of heritage. However, to date, no credible analysis of the funding of heritage conservation actions at the urban scale is available.

New life for historic towns A paradigm shift in the approach to heritage management is needed

Recognizing the complexities and pressure associated with historic cities due to rapid urbanization, climate change, economic collapse and growing poverty and inequality, in 2011, UNESCO launched the ‘Historic Urban Landscape ( HUL) ”to find a new balance between urban development and heritage management.

In his “New Life for Historic Cities”, in 2013, this approach to the historic urban landscape was explained in more detail through the iconic image, called “Layers of the city”, where the need to understand urban development more wide and geographic contexts were emphasized:

Read also: Rethinking infrastructure as part of urban planning

“Cities are dynamic organizations. There is not a single “historic” city in the world that has retained its original character: the concept is a moving target, destined to evolve with society itself. To preserve the historic urban landscape, strategic and dynamic alliances must be built between the different actors of the urban scene, in the first place between the public authorities who manage the city and the planners and entrepreneurs who operate in the city.

The “City Layers” clearly highlight the multidisciplinary and collaborative nature of modern heritage management which intertwines the disciplines of architecture, engineering, technology, planning, management, finance. and other related fields.

Target 11.4 of SDG 11 calls for strengthening efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage. To meet the targets of SDG 11.4, India needs a paradigm shift in its approach to urban heritage management.

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