Mumbai was bestowed with a proud moment on Saturday. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) finally agreed to inscribe Mumbai’s Victorian and Art Deco Ensembles, straddling two heritage precincts of Marine Drive and Fort, into its list of World Heritage Sites, after fourteen long years of its proposal. With this, Mumbai becomes the second city in India after Ahmedabad to make it to the UNESCO’s World Heritage Site List.
On this occasion, Mr. Fadnavis, Chief Minister of Mumbai and the one who endorsed the Mumbai’s nomination showed his happiness by making a statement that Mumbai had always been a world city and now it is gifted with another UNESCO heritage site. He also said that it was a huge victory for Mumbai.
The UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting was held in Bahrain. It was from there that Abaha Narain Lambah, the conservation architect and a part of Indian delegation, made this announcement by sending a message at around 1pm. The message stated that Mumbai’s Victorian and Art Deco Ensembles declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
On 5th May 2018, it was brought into notice that the enclave has been recommended for the prestigious tag by a UNESCO’s Paris-based technical adviser – International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS). It is interesting to note that once ICOMOS approves to a proposal, it is usually accepted by UNESCO.
With the latest inscription, Mumbai now has three UNESCO World Heritage Sites namely, the CSMT, the Elephanta Caves and the Victorian and Art Deco Ensembles. With five UNESCO tags, Maharashtra leads the states. There are total of 37 World Heritage Inscriptions in India. State Urban development secretary Nitin Kareer was also a part of the delegation and told that they have the World Heritage Site approved for Mumbai. He, on behalf of the state government, dedicated the inscription to the natives of Mumbai for their consistent hard work to protect and put great value to their heritage.
Mumbai’s 19th century collection of Victorian structures include the High Court, Old Secretariat, Mumbai University, Elphinstone College, NGMA, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, David Sassoon Library, Western Railways headquarters, Maharashtra Police headquarters to the east of Oval Maidan. The 20th century Art deco buildings comprise of the first row of Backbay Reclamation scheme, buildings such as the Ram Mahal and Cricket Club of India along Dinshaw Vacha Road, the iconic cinema halls of Regal and Eros and the first row of buildings along Marine Drive.
The western edge of the property is characterized by the majestic Arabian Sea that borders the 20th century Art Deco buildings of Backbay Reclamation and Marine Drive. Madam Cama Road defines the southern edge of the property whereas Veer Nariman Road highlights the northern edge.
The eastern edge of the property is recognized by Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Chowk and Mahatma Gandhi Marg within the assigned historic precinct of Fort area. This distinguishes the edge of fortified city of Bombay, now Mumbai, of 19th century. Although the walls of the fort were ruined in 1860s during the governorship of Sir Bartle Frere, the name still remains in public memory. It is a protected heritage precinct under the Heritage Regulations for Greater Bombay 1995.
Lambah, who prepared the nomination report, told that from 2004, when he first presented this idea at UNESCO Conference in Chandigarh, it took 14 long years to get the government on board, citizen groups and stakeholders to make this happen. This inclusion will help Mumbai to enjoy the position of the finest collection of 19th and 20th century modernism in the world. Mumbai will boast of to be a city where not just the dead monuments are regarded as heritage but a breathing, living, dynamic urban center with actively used buildings are also included on the list. It is for the first time in India’s 37 heritage sites where a citizen initiated for the nomination process.
The proposal was supported by local citizen groups like Kala Ghoda Association, UDRI, OVAL Trust, Oval Cooperage Residents Association, Nariman Point – Churchgate Citizens Association, Federation of Residents’ Trusts, Heritage Mile Association, the MMR Heritage Conservation Society and Observer Research Foundation. Prominent Mumbaikars like Mr. Fadnavis, Amitabh Bachchan and Shaina NC endorsed the idea.
Nayana Kathpalia and Shirin Bharucha, representations of various NGOs and civic group, applauded the effort as a distinctive partnership among government bodies and citizens in making nomination successful.
A member of Nariman Point – Churchgate Citizens Association, Mr. Atul Kumar said that residents and stakeholders are overjoyed to celebrate the historic event in the history of Victorian and Art Deco architecture of Mumbai. He also thanked the Indian Government and state government for the initiative.
In January 2015, Mr. Fadnavis wrote to the Centre highlighting the need to send Mumbai’s nomination as India’s official entry to UNESCO. He had said that if the nomination succeeded, Mumbai’s tourism and culture would be hugely benefited. The city will make it to the international tourist map. Mumbai already enjoys to be the financial capital of India and with the success, it will become both financial and heritage site.
Mahesh Sharma, Union Minister of state for culture congratulated the natives of Mumbai for the success and told that the local economy will be boosted by it.
Vikas Dilawari, conservation architect called it a proud moment for the city and said that Victorian Ensemble nominated and selected was nominal. There is much more that can be offered by the Fort Area like rest of the buildings facing Azad Maidan, Cross Maidan and DN Road etc. He expected that just how it started with one building CSMT in 2004 to entire ensemble in 2018, other buildings will be included in the next phase.
Summary – The Victorian and Art Deco Ensembles of Mumbai made it to the UNESCO’s World Heritage Site List after 14 years of proposing the idea. This makes Mumbai, the second city in India to be inscribed on World Heritage Site List.