The high-voltage campaigns for the crucial MCD polls tomorrow has ended, but the word heritage neither found a mention in any of the party manifestos nor in the high-decibel speeches during rallies. Delhi is home to iconic monuments, from ancient to modern era, and over 1,000 havelis and various historic landmarks, including 150-year-old Town Hall, former headquarters of the MCD, falls under municipal limits.
Senior BJP leader Vijay Goel says, “No party or government, and I say no government, whomsoever actually cares about heritage. The idea of heritage has become a matter of page three now, sadly.” Goel, a former Delhi BJP chief has worked on upkeep of heritage buildings and his Dharampura Haveli restoration project has now become one of the yardsticks for conservation in the city.
“If you ask me, I will choose heritage over politics any given day. But, politicians will never talk of heritage in manifestos or campaigns as it will not fetch them votes. So, it’s roti, kapda, pani, bijli and sadak that will remain the dominant theme, which is sad,” he told PTI.
Many age-old havelis, endowed with charming architecture and ornate carvings on doors and railings are decaying in areas like Chandani Chowk and Kashmere Gate for want of preservation. Town Hall, built in 1866, in Old Delhi, is languishing as its restoration plan has gone into “cold storage” due to bureaucratic delays, said a former chairman of NDMC’s standing committee.
While the MCD was trifurcated in 2012 into three municipal corporations — NDMC, SDMC and EDMC, the Heritage Committee, constituted during the unified MCD period is still overseeing the heritage-related work taken up by the three civic bodies.
As per the list made around 2011-12, MCD had identified about 1,500 heritage structures under its jurisdiction, of which nearly 900 were havelis. In 2014, work to revise the list was started by the committee. Incidentally, the only time heritage made news in the MCD campaigning phase was, when Goel and senior AAP leader Manish Sisodia argued over the tax benefit extended to Haveli Dharampura.
“Instead of promoting the idea of heritage preservation, AAP politicised it and that is why people will never come forward to work on heritage, owners or politicians,” Goel lamented. But, views of this Union sports minister on plight of heritage, find echoes in sentiments of heritage activists and conservation architects too.
“Heritage doesn’t really even find a space in a political manifesto of any party for obvious reasons, it doesn’t get them votes. And, politicians, anyway know that it is neither of any interest to the society, so why make it a poll issue,” noted urban planner, AGK Menon, said.
Menon, former convener, INTACH Delhi Chapter, which had prepared a dossier for Delhi government in pursuance of the UNESCO World Heritage tag for the city few years ago, said, “The Centre pulled back the nomination.” “Why, because politician see new constructions as growth and presence of old structures as necessarily an impediment to that growth. And, hence heritage doesn’t become a rallying point, like electricity, water and roads do, while wooing their voters,” he rued.
In areas like Chirag Delhi and Badarpur, old gateways are decaying but none of the area councillors have ever proposed the idea of restoration, Menon said.
“Forget monuments and gateways, what about old libraries, like Hardinge Library in Chandani Chowk which turned 100 last year, can they not promise to do work for it from their own councillor fund,” asked a city-based heritage activist, who did not wish to be named. Kanika, another heritage activist, who conducts regular walks in the city, says, politicians interest with history is limited to “building memorials” keeping vote bank in mind.
“Old buildings, mansions and shops with iconic wrought- iron frontage are decaying. The MCD could have evolved a preservation policy as we have it in Europe and our old public places too would have attracted visitors, but who cares,” she rued.
Besides Chandani Chowk and Kashmere Gate, heritage buildings under the municipal corporations’ jurisdiction are spread in Mehrauli, Civil Lines, Sadar Bazaar, among other places.
The BJP and Congress both fronted their big guns during the campaigns, which ended last evening. Regional parties like JD(U) and SP also brought in their top leaders to shore up their fortunes, but heritage subject was conspicuous by its absence in speeches by all leaders.