Vote for Mumbai's 3rd UNESCO World Heritage Site

Jul 13, 2013, 11:53 IST | Fiona Fernandez

Mumbai is seeing a strong push for inclusion of its famed Oval precinct in UNESCO's World Heritage Site list. The reason: The blend of Victorian and Art Deco architecture flanking the grounds on either side. Join the campaign with MiDDAY...

Flagging off the first in our series, MiDDAY has joined hands with Urban Design Research Institute to support Mumbai’s nomination for the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. As the momentum gathers in its final phase before Mumbai's Victorian and Art Deco ensemble - the Oval Maidan area - is submitted to Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan as the city's official entry, Abha Narain Lambah tells us why Mumbaikars must support this campaign

Vote here to give Mumbai’s its 3rd UNESCO World Heritage Site

Despite being in Bodh Gaya, Abha Narain Lambah is busy co-ordinating operations with the team at Urban Design Research Institute (UDRI) to ensure that expert Augusto Villalon’s visit to the city, to inspect the Victorian Gothic and Art Deco ensemble - Mumbai’s nomination for UNESCO World Heritage Site status, is on track. For heritage conservationist Lambah and the team at UDRI, it’s an exciting yet anxious time.

Wheeling us into the progress of their efforts, Lambah tells us that work is in full swing to present Mumbai’s official submission to the Maharashtra Chief Minister, in mid-August. “Our draft dossier is ready. On Sunday, we are hosting expert Augusto Villalon from The Philippines who will visit the site to review the Victorian and Art Deco Ensemble of Mumbai proposal.

A sweeping view of the precinct, with the Maidan and buildings with contrasting architectural styles. Pic/Suresh KK

We will take him around the proposed heritage site that beautifully reflects two distinct and diverse architectural styles spanning different centuries. The idea for this visit is to ensure that we are on the right track with our proposal, that our proposal is validated by the most respected minds and experts and we can take recommendations and suggestions to ensure the proposal meets every expectation,” reveals Lambah. She stresses how Mumbaikars should be proud of the fact that nowhere in the world does one get to see the heritage of two centuries facing each other.

Final countdown
“By mid-August, we will submit the proposal to Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan who will in turn, present it as the state’s official proposal to the Ministry of Cultural Affairs in New Delhi,” she explains, adding that India can submit only one site to UNESCO each year. This time around, the Ministry is keen to do a completion check of all dossiers by September 30, to be ahead of the strong international competition. The final date for the dossier submissions is much later, in January 2014, she adds.

On August 1, Dr Richard A Engelhardt, former UNESCO Regional Advisor for Culture in Asia and the Pacific, will come down for a similar visit of the site. Explaining the reason for this visit, Lambah says, “We felt that he would be more conversant with Asian realities and hence lend the right impetus to our proposal.”

People power
Lambah is glowing in her praise of how the public has come forward to support this cause, so far. “It's been amazing, really. Till now, individuals and organisations are doing their best to ensure this proposal gets the right impetus. Publisher Padmini Mirchandani is hosting Villalon, renowned photographer Jehangir Sorabjee has donated aerial frames of the city from his collection, free of cost, while the late Sharada Dwivedi gave us access to her invaluable repository of archives and images. The Kala Ghoda Association and the Oval and Cooperage Residents Association have also come forward with donations,” she fills us in.

A view of contrasting styles and structures. Pic/Atul Kamble

Lambah goes on to add that at this last leg, it’s crucial for Mumbai’s citizens to rally around this proposal and show their support. “More citizens should come to the fore. Governments run on public mood and emotion, hence it is important for our citizens to lobby hard to ensure this precinct gets its deserved recognition. The media and citizens must create a buzz and send out a message to the Maharashtra government to wholly support this proposal for our city,” she reminds us.

Giving Mumbai tough competition, as far as nominations are concerned, is Delhi. “I read in a few Delhi newspapers that their tourism ministry will be officially submitting Delhi’s proposal. It’s a huge push, and makes things easier for the people behind Delhi’s proposal,” her voice echoes a genuine concern that must be on the minds of every individual, organisation and faceless voice who has and continues to lend support to push for Mumbai’s nomination.

The Rajabai Clock tower stands sentinel over the Oval Maidan. Pic/Suresh KK

Yet, giving us enough reason to be upbeat, Lambah believes that Mumbai’s chances are bright: “We have a strong case. After all, Mumbai was the first Indian city to establish heritage regulatory norms that are still in place and being observed 18 years since they were first initiated, in 1995. We’ve proven repeatedly that it’s possible to ensure that such regulations are followed.” As a final shot, she reminds us, “The area and its buildings and spaces are preserved as part of our city’s living heritage where their original charm is intact despite being in use.”

Did you know?
A Rampart Removal Committee under James Trubshawe was formed to ensure all the structures observe the Victorian Gothic style of architecture. All these structures including the Bombay High Court, Mumbai University buildings, Central Telegraph Office and old Secretariat faced the sea until land was reclaimed from the sea and the Art Deco buildings were built in the following century, which roughly began in the mid-1920s.

‘Bodh Gaya site is unaffected’
The Mahabodhi Temple Complex at Bodh Gaya, the UNESCO World Heritage Site that recently bore the brunt of bomb blasts, is, according to Abha Narain Lambah, “in good shape, rather miraculously; almost as if the gods were kind,” she tells us, after having visited ground zero a few days ago.

Suggested reading about the area’s history
Bombay: The Cities Within - Sharada Dwivedi and Rahul Mehrotra
Fort Walks: Around Bombay’s Fort Areas - Sharada Dwivedi and Rahul Mehrotra
Bombay Gothic - Christopher London
Bombay Art Deco - Navin Ramani

Vote for your city!
MiDDAY has joined hands with UDRI to begin a public awareness campaign where readers can show their support to back this proposal. Cast your vote on and post a message too, to express your solidarity for this campaign.
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