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Now that Ahmedabad has been declared a World Heritage City by UNESCO, historians, urban planners and others hope that policy-makers will stop looking at heritage as a "burden". The historic city of Gujarat, said to be founded by Sultan Ahmad Shah in the 15th century, was on Saturday accorded the UNESCO honour, the first Indian city to get the status. The 600-year-old city has now joined the ranks of Paris, Vienna, Cairo, Brussels, Rome and Edinburgh and put India on the world heritage city map. "This is wonderful news and I hope it will make people look at heritage differently and open up the doors to many other old cities, which have the potential of becoming World Heritage Cities," noted urban planner and architect AGK Menon told PTI. He expressed the hope that policy-makers and others would not consider heritage as a burden and "anti-development". The city of Delhi was nominated by India in 2015 for the same category but the Centre pulled out of the race towards the end of the process. Menon, former convener of the Delhi Chapter of the heritage group, INTACH, which had prepared the dossier for Delhi's nomination, said the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) and the state government as well as the people all worked "very hard to make this dream a reality". The honour, he said, was a "lesson" for civic bodies around the country, including in Delhi, to look at heritage as an asset as Ahmedabad did, and "preserve, conserve and restore" heritage sites for posterity. The decision was taken during the ongoing 41st session of the World Heritage Committee in the Polish city of Krakow, which acknowledged the preservation efforts made by the city in keeping its historical fabric intact. The city's historic characteristics include densely- packed traditional houses ('pols') in gated traditional streets ('puras') with features such as bird feeders, public wells and religious institutions. Heritage activist Sohail Hashmi, who conducts regular walks in Old Delhi, was elated to learn about the recognition but sounded a word of caution. "It is indeed a moment of pride for all of us. But this achievement comes with a price. We know Delhi's nomination was withdrawn because many decision-makers thought it (the UNESCO tag) would hamper urban infrastructure expansion," he said. He said it was ironical that the central government had recently approved an amendment to a heritage-related legislation to allow construction near protected monuments. "So, tomorrow, if they try to build a flyover near an iconic heritage building, the UNESCO may withdraw the tag," Hashmi said. The government in May had approved amendments to a law for allowing construction of Centre-funded infrastructure projects within the limits of "prohibited area" around protected monuments. "But I am hopeful that Ahmedabad will show the way to other cities, state and local governments and the Centre to go for heritage conservation.
Old buildings, havelis, kothis and mansions would be restored and adaptively reused instead of being knocked down," he said.Almost all old cities, he said, had preserved their historic fabric. "Besides Delhi, cities such as Mumbai, Patna, Allahabad and Madurai could get the heritage tag," he said. Delhi is home to three World Heritage Sites -- Humayun's Tomb, Red Fort and Qutub Minar. Ahmedabad has 26 ASI-protected structures, hundreds of 'pols' that capture the essence of community living and numerous sites associated with Mahatma Gandhi who lived there from 1915 to 1930. In 1984, the first study for conserving heritage structures was carried out in the city. A heritage cell was also set up by the AMC, the first civic body to do so. The city had featured in UNESCO's tentative list of world heritage cities on March 31, 2011. Expressing delight at the announcement, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani had tweeted on Saturday: "Thrilled to learn that Ahmedabad has been recognised as UNESCO World heritage city, first of its kind in India". Delhi-based Young heritage activist Vikramjit Singh Rooprai, who has also conducted walks for various public representatives, including many MLAs in the city, said Ahmedabad achieved this because of the "unwavering enthusiasm" of the people. "I feel a bit sad that Delhi, which also deserves to be a World Heritage City, missed the bus in 2015, but Ahmedabad's achievement is something we must all take pride in. It has become the first city in India to get the UNESCO tag, and we must all rejoice in it and take lessons from the city," he said.
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