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 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. From there, Abaha Narain Lambah, the conservation architect and a part of the Indian delegation, made this announcement by sending a message at around 1 pm. The message stated that Mumbai’s Victorian and Art Deco Ensembles were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
On 5th May 2018, it was brought to notice that the enclave has been recommended for the prestigious tag by UNESCO’s Paris-based technical adviser – the International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS). It is interesting to note that once ICOMOS approves a proposal, it is usually accepted by UNESCO.
Mumbai has three UNESCO World Heritage Sites with the latest inscription: the CSMT, the Elephanta Caves, and the Victorian and Art Deco Ensembles. With five UNESCO tags, Maharashtra leads the states. There is a 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. On behalf of the state government, he dedicated the inscription to the natives of Mumbai for their consistent hard work to protect and put great value on their heritage.
Mumbai’s 19th-century collection of Victorian structures includes 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 the first row of the Backbay Reclamation scheme, 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 property’s western edge 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 property’s southern edge, 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 the Fort area. This distinguishes the edge of the fortified city of Bombay, now Mumbai, of the 19th century. Although the fort’s walls were ruined in the 1860s during the governorship of Sir Bartle Frere, the name remains in public memory. Therefore, 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 enjoy the position of the world’s finest collection of 19th and 20th-century modernism. Mumbai will boast of being a city where not just the dead monuments are regarded as heritage. Still, a breathing, living, dynamic urban center with actively used buildings is also included on the list. For the first time in India’s 37 heritage sites, a citizen-initiated 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. In addition, prominent Mumbaikars like Mr. Fadnavis, Amitabh Bachchan, and Shaina NC endorsed the idea.
Nayana Kathpalia and Shirin Bharucha, representations of various NGOs and civic groups, applauded the effort as a distinctive partnership among government bodies and citizens in making the nomination successful.
A member of Nariman Point – Churchgate Citizens Association, Mr. Atul Kumar, said that residents and stakeholders are thrilled 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 said that if the nomination succeeded, Mumbai’s tourism and culture would hugely benefit. The city will make it to the international tourist map. Mumbai already enjoys to be the financial capital of India, and with success, it will become both an economic and heritage site.
Mahesh Sharma, Union Minister of state for culture, congratulated the natives of Mumbai for their success and told them that the local economy will be boosted by it.
Vikas Dilawari, a 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 the buildings facing Azad Maidan, Cross Maidan, DN Road, etc. He expected that just as it started with one building CSMT in 2004 to the entire ensemble in 2018, other facilities would 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.