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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XX No. 13, October 16-31, 2010
Will we follow where they lead?
(By A Staff Reporter)

Madras that is Chennai may be home to many firsts but when it comes to heritage it is quite clear that other cities of India, including smaller ones such as Ahmadabad and Hyderabad, have stolen a considerable lead over it. That, at least, was the picture that emerged at a seminar on Conservation of Heritage Buildings and Precincts in the Chennai Metropolitan Area, organised by the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority.

While the home team, as represented by members of the Heritage Conservation Committee and the CMDA, only stated what it planned to do after due process, representatives of civic bodies and planning agencies of other cities presented with considerable pride what had been achieved by them.

Ahmadabad’s record was clearly the most impressive. Not only was that city the first in India to establish a heritage cell within the Corporation but it also listed as many as 2000 buildings as heritage structures of various grades and these were brought under specially framed rules of the Corporation in 2008. The entire 5 sq km walled city has been declared a heritage precinct and extensive documentation is now going on at the various pol-s, perhaps the earliest instance of gated communities, that dot the city. In order to promote public awareness, the Corporation, under a specially designated officer in charge of the heritage cell, has been conducting heritage walks for over 15 years. These are entirely run by volunteers. This has resulted in enormous enthusiasm among the owners of some of the heritage buildings along the route and they have even printed brochures on the histories of their respective properties.

One of the awed participants in the walk one year was the French Ambassador to India who initiated a collaborative exercise between his country and the Gujarat Government to revitalise the walled city. The Corporation, realising that owners of heritage buildings are often hard-pressed for funds to carry out renovations, has signed up with HUDCO which now offers loans to owners for renovation at reduced rates of interest. In order to enthuse the younger generation, books have been brought out for children on the city’s heritage. There is continuous contact with the media, and documentaries have been made on the city by National Geographic and other channels. All these steps have enthused the real estate lobby, traditionally viewed as anti-heritage. Some of the developers are adopting heritage buildings and maintaining them at their own expense.

In Mysore, the Department of Archaeology, Museums and Heritage is working on safeguarding six towns – Bidar, Bijapur, Gulbarga, Kittur, Srirangapatna and Mysore – as heritage precincts. Heritage rules have been drafted and the Urban Town and Country Planning Act is being amended to effect a Heritage Act. Within Mysore town, 200 buildings have been listed and there is an effort underway to restore the surroundings of these buildings with period iron seats, lamp-posts and grilles. Steps are being taken to get UNESCO to extend its protection to some of Mysore’s famed intangible aspects of heritage – the Dussehra, the Mysore mallige (jasmine), sandalwood, silks and others. The Department has an enviable budget of Rs. 100 crore for this year to carry out its tasks.

Kolkata has 917 listed heritage buildings in four categories. A Heritage Act for the city was passed in 1997 and this was later extended to cover the whole state. The Kolkata Municipal Corporation has a Director-General in charge of its heritage cell. This cell has the right to declare a building as a heritage structure. The KMC clearly lists out rights and responsibilities of owners of heritage buildings and also funds their maintenance under grants based on applications whose merits are adjudged by a committee. Property Tax is charged at reduced rates for heritage properties and such buildings are often allowed to change their status – for example, from residential to commercial to enable better revenue generation. The entire central business district of Dalhousie Square is now being taken up for restoration, a proposal for which is being drawn up by the School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi.

The capital city of Delhi has a plethora of monuments and as many as 16 civic bodies, government departments and institutions that claim jurisdiction over several of its heritage buildings. It took a battle of ten years for the New Delhi Municipal Corporation to notify its list of 100 heritage buildings, but the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, which has the larger share of historical structures is yet to do so. There is, however, a clear route for protection of most structures, with the Urban Arts Commission playing an important role.

Hyderabad has 151 listed heritage buildings and 30 precincts, including its famous rock formations. This city was perhaps the first to have a heritage movement, as early as 1975. The Heritage Conservation Committee was formed in 1999 and, together with the Hyderabad Urban Development Authority, it is now involved in putting up informative plaques at various locations in the city. Efforts are on to declare the Charminar area a pedestrian zone.

All speakers at the seminar listed certain common problems. The problem of funding was one and it was pointed out that the benefits owners of heritage properties get by way of tax waivers is a pittance compared to the money they will earn by redevelopment. The much-touted transfer of development rights is not the panacea it is believed to be and there are several problems associated with its administration. Lastly, no state except West Bengal really has a Heritage Act and, so, a sudden rethink by any government can mean that protection could be withdrawn from all buildings.

Though it is clear that while other cities have stolen a march on Chennai. Can our CMDA and HCC make up for lost time?

In this issue

Will we follow where they lead?
Not 'no road', but one at two levels
Adaptable re-use
From on the back foot – to a turn for the better
An EPOCH begins in Madras
A group that plans to celebrate Arcot Road
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Listed Heritage Buildings
Other stories

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