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MUNICIPAL INITIATIVE IN HERITAGE CONSERVATION The Case of Ahmedabad

Prepared By: Shri Debashish Nayak Advisor, Heritage Programme Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation

Sanskar Kendra–City Museum, Opposite National institute of Design (NID), Paldi, Ahmedabad – 380 006 Gujarat, India Phone: + 91-79-2657 4335 + 91-79-3298 4116 Mobile: +91 98240 32866 E-mail: debashishnayak@rediffmail.com Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation Website

INTRODUCTION:

Communities live and work in towns and cities; as society changes so does urban form, responding to accommodate change and growth. In today’s pace of economic development, such historic resources are often perceived as inefficient, unproductive and even inconvenient. They are often replaced with buildings that appear contemporary and more efficient. This neglect has led to decay, depressed economic conditions and dilapidation leading to migration of the population to newer areas.

Familiarity breeds contempt. The citizens get accustomed with their environment and gradually become less aware of it. The city becomes a habit. Herein lies the need to make the citizens aware of the importance of their built environment and to help them develop a harmonious and contemporary relationship with it. In a sense, urban renewal does not just rebuild the city; it rebuilds people’s relationship with the city. There lies a need that the old buildings and older areas of the city should be looked upon as assets rather than as liabilities because they represent the history of communities, embodying their tradition, heritage and culture through architecture and the urban form.

This paper explains the importance of an alternative way of connecting conservation and community participation for a sustainable process of revival for Historic cities in India.

ROLE OF MUNICIPAL CORPORATIONS IN HERITAGE CONSERVATION:

The local government plays a very important role in the whole implementation process and the achievement of the ultimate goal of an integrated heritage conservation effort.

THE AHMEDABAD INITIATIVE

Background

The birth of the Old City settlement dates back to a 10th century AD town known as Ashaval. In the later part of the 11th century, another city grew adjacent to Ashaval, known as Karnavati. The present Walled City was created during the Ahmed Shahi period in the 15th century. A new palace and fort were built near Bhadra, which covered a rectangular area of around 500 * 800 meters. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the city expanded outwards. Fortifications were strengthened. The 18th century saw the decline of the city and many suburbs and even parts of the inner city were abandoned and ruined. During the British rule due to political stability and later the introduction of textile mills resulted in economic growth and prosperity. Military and administrative centers, cantonment and railways, churches, administrative and residential buildings were also established during that period. Wholesale markets at Kalupur, mechanized industries and worker’s quarters on eastern suburbs, Ellis Bridge, residential buildings and educational institutions were established. Fort walls were mostly pulled down in mid 20th century. The absence of any decentralization policy with regard to economic activities resulted in congestion and decay of Walled City.

Urban Character

Streets and Neighborhoods: The nucleus of activities at Bhadra and Manek Chowk, and the twelve gates on the wall, created a radial pattern of streets. Puras were connected with wider streets and entered through gates. Each micro neighborhood around residential streets became typical and is called ‘pol’ which consists of a street and houses on its both sides. It would have at the most two gates that bar entry at night.

The city of Ahmedabad has been able to display examples worth replicating in the field of heritage conservation. AMC and Ford Foundation, New Delhi prepared a report on ‘Urban Conservation of Walled City of Ahmedabad’. The study concentrated on the essential elements required in the city’s conservation with a focus on the historical areas. The historical importance of the city, city form, wall, gates, pols, house patterns and the problems related to old fabric were analyzed. A list of heritage buildings and precincts was prepared. A conservation policy and a demonstration project were also proposed.

Sharing the Concerns

In the initial phase of intervention an attempt was made to identify the various factors making conservation of heritage difficult in the Walled City area. Some of these issues are listed below:

Problems in regulations and policies

Road line: During the British rule a proposal was mooted for widening the roads in the Walled City. Proposed road boundaries, known as ‘Road lines’ were demarcated. All new construction was to be done beyond this line. This created a negative attitude among the community members with the result that the front portion of the building, coming under road line, has been neglected. This has resulted in the decay of many a valuable building façades.

Floor Space Index (FSI): The permissible FSI in the Walled City, except for the ‘City Centre’ area was 3.0. The traditional neighbourhoods normally consume much less. This additional FSI is actually being used for constructing multi-storied buildings by amalgamating three or four plots. This used to destroy the character of the area. Now it has been reduced to 2.0, so the only development possible is restoration and upgrading the existing property.

Tax Structure: Certain aspects of the Tax structure do not favour heritage conservation. For example, Chabutaras (bird feeder) are considered as commercial buildings and are taxed on such rates. Similarly, vacant properties are taxed less, leading to buildings of heritage value being locked up and left to ruin.

Changes in the economy

Closure of Textile mills: A large part of the residential population in the Walled City consisted tenants working in textile mills. With the mills closing down, they were rendered jobless and stopped maintaining the old buildings that they occupied. This led to a variety of heritage properties getting ruined.

Growth of gold and silver units: The gold and silver industry in the Walled City grew and attracted many skilled persons into the fabric. This influx of people from outside has disturbed the homogeneity of the social fabric in pols. This is also suspected to have increased the crime rate in the Walled City.

Commercial ingress in the old fabric, especially after the addition of Relief Road, created a lot of undesirable changes in the landuse. Warehouses coming up inside the pols greatly disturbed the residential character.

Social problems leading to migration: Successive riots and communal problems have forced people to migrate thus weakening the upkeep of the fabric.

Lack of information

Awareness among the people about conservation is very poor. Also the unavailability of proper building materials for repair works caused decay. Proper maps and drawings of the Walled City were not available. This reduces the access of the police, fire force, ambulances, etc. into the deeper portions of the city.


Strategic Partnerships

The success of any intervention depends on the building of strategic partnerships and in stimulating widespread participation of a variety of stakeholders.

Community participation

A series of activities were organized to elicit community participation. Some of these are described below:

A meeting at Khadia: A meeting was held in the Old City ‘Khadia’ area to discuss the possibilities and strategies of conservation and development of Walled City of Ahmedabad. This was organized by AMC and attended by many citizen groups, renowned personalities and AMC officials.

World Heritage Week celebration at Desai-ni-Pol: The first public programme entitled ‘Preservation of the Past and Glimpses of history’ was launched at Desai-ni-Pol in Khadia area on 19th November 1996 on the occasion of World Heritage Week celebration. This was a unique programme where “Heritage” was the main issue and organized jointly by citizen’s groups and Municipal Authorities.

Desai-ni-Pol has a place in history because of its rebellious past during the British rule. The residents of the pol released a booklet to mark the Heritage Day, listing the historical houses, personalities who lived there, and a chronicle of important events.

Krantidarshan Padyatra (Freedom Walk): On 14th August 1997 a Freedom Walk was organized where several houses, connected with the history of Indian freedom struggle came to light. Twenty-eight important houses were identified and the citizens under the leadership of elected and government officials visited the same. Based on this on 2nd October 1997, many pol groups celebrated Gandhiji’s birthday and buildings associated were visited.

Netaji’s birthday celebrated in Bengal Home: A celebration similar to that in Desai-ni-Pol marked the birthday of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose on 23rd January 1998. Bengal Home in Dhobi-ni-Pol, established in 1905 was the center of actions. This is where revolutionaries from Bengal stayed and trained local people in revolutionary activities during the freedom struggle. During a public meeting on this occasion, the need for preserving cultural heritage was stressed.

Kavi Sammelan (Poets’ meet): A Kavi Sammelan was organized on Kavi Dalpatram’s death anniversary on 25th March 1998, in the pol where he used to live. Organizations like Gujarat Sahitya Parishad also worked to make it a success.

Revival of Traditional Local Governance System – Panch: A street play called ‘Pol – Etale molun dahin ne upar katke gor’ was developed with an intention to create awareness at a larger scale amongst people, which was used as a tool to initiate a dialogue with the pol people. The play was organized by the collaborative efforts of CRUTA foundation (Advisor – Heritage Programme, AMC), Theatre Media Centre (TMC) and Ahmedabad Community Foundation (ACF).

The play described the life and culture of the people of the pols. It tried to discourage the breaking down of the traditional pol house with the otla, chowk, tanka, wooden carved facades etc., to be replaced by concrete and brick structures. Thus the play was an effort to encourage people in the pols to revive their effective system of local governance. It was an effort to evoke the residents to create their ‘panch’ and set strong local governance.

Heritage Walk: A Heritage Walk was initiated through the old neighborhoods by AMC and the programme was well publicized through brochures and posters. The community itself came forward with whatever help they could do. The residents in the route make efforts to keep the route clean and restored.

Volunteer involvement is very crucial for long-term sustenance of any movement. Official recognition of citizen efforts is also vital. AMC has recognized this role and a proper certification process are also established.

Street signage programme: Name of an Area, particularly in historic inner city neighborhoods, is very important for the residents. They closely identify with the name. Unfortunately the street plate recognizing the identity of those areas has never been a priority. AMC took it up as an issue and has started to display name plates with municipal symbols and appropriately inaugurated them in the presence of AMC officials, local political representative and elderly persons of the neighborhood.

Role of media: In all these activities the role of media is very important to give wide publicity and create awareness among the common people.

Inter departmental and public private partnerships

City gates: The AMC in association with ASI (Archeological Survey of India) set out on a beautification process focusing on the fort wall and city gates. ASI works on the physical restoration and AMC works on the landscape and lighting around the gates. Astodia gate is the first gate ready for first touches.

Façade grant: AMC with the assistance of state government and Gujarat State Archeological Department is giving 50% grant for façade restoration. This type of inter departmental partnerships can include citizen groups and NGOs also.

Kavi Dalpatram Memorial: AMC and the citizens of Ahmedabad proposed a memorial at the site of the house of the great poet. In absence of any proper drawings and plans of the poet’s actual house, here the memories of the old residents were tapped and adjoining studied to bring authenticity into the creation of the memorial. The memorial comprises the façade of the original house, Tulsi Manch and a larger than life size 120 kg bronze statue of Dalpatram.

Memorial of Poet Akha Bhagat: A project has been initiated by AMC Heritage Cell to install the statue of poet Akha Bhagat at Desai-ni-Pol, based on the painting of him by Late Ravi Sankar Rawal.

Development of the Manek Burj: The Manek Burj, which stands at the southwest tower of the Old City wall, is associated to the ceremony of founding of Ahmedabad. A project was initiated for the restoration of the remains by AMC Heritage Cell. The restoration work was supported by Swaminarayan Temple Trust.

Transformer design in old city: Pole-mounted transformers installed by the Ahmedabad Electricity Company (AEC) are usually eyesores in many parts of the walled city. One of these, located next to a Chabutara was redesigned by AEC in association with local Architect in such a way as to highlight the importance of Chabutara.

Panchkuwa ward office: An old building near Panchkuwa Gate was identified by AMC for conservation. This building was restored and used for its ward office.

Heritage Gate of the Collectorate: Inspired by the heritage initiative the Collector of Ahmedabad requested AMC to help them to design a Heritage gate for their complex and took up renovation of their buildings.

City Museum: A City Museum has been established with the help of Vastushilpa Foundation.

Involvement of elected representatives: This is an important factor in the success of any such activities as they have direct contact with the citizens and influence on them. Their involvement must be assured at all stages.

Establishment of a Heritage Cell: A heritage cell has been established in the AMC to look after heritage activities and policies. A separate budget of Rs. 50 lakhs was allocated, as a start up fund.

Heritage Walk: A key tool for urban revival

Heritage Walk – as the name suggests, behaves as an effective tool whereby the inner areas of the city shall be explored in terms of the architectural heritage, cultural heritage and the craft heritage. The walk shall in its due course take the people through specific routes penetrating through the inner areas and habitats of the people, exploring the beautiful temples, heritage buildings, havelis, pols, shops and a lot more.

The exploring and exposing of the inner areas of the Walled City requires an initiative from the Municipal Corporation of the city, which needs to provide some basic infrastructure – in terms of proper paving, cleaning up of the streets, provision of street lights, signage, public amenities. The walk carries with it another kind of advantage – the changes it can bring about in the landuse pattern of the area, by conversion of a part of the heritage building into a cafeteria or into a paying guest accommodation, whereby the tourists can get the actual feel of the cultural heritage by staying within the precincts of it. This can allow a total change in the economy of the area wherein the tourists can stay in and spend at these inner areas.

Linking the Heritage Walk with other strategies



Preliminary Roles of the Municipal Corporations

To summarize one can list down the following roles of municipal corporations for heritage conservation:

1. Intervene strategically. 2. Start with available resources. 3. Elicit support of local architects, professionals and NGOs. 4. Get support of local people. 5. Identify implement able projects 6. Involve elected wing. 7. Coordinate with other government and non-government agencies. 8. Establish a heritage unit in the local government. 9. Sensitize all official agencies towards heritage work. 10. Recognize and cooperate with International bodies and coordinate their actions.


Reaching Out

These experiences and lessons should be used to prepare a comprehensive strategy in a wider level:

Replicating the model: The model of Heritage Walk and other initiatives of AMC are getting replicated. With certain additions as per local characteristics, has already replicated the idea, and among other cities like Amritsar, Pondicherry, Baroda, Jamnagar, Delhi, Bhuj, Siddhpur, Jaipur, Surat, Patiala, Jodhpur have already launched their projects.

Sharing experiences: These experiences are being shared with towns around Ahmedabad like in Dholka, Dabhoi, Nadiad and Lothal. AMC Heritage Cell officials are helping them to prepare comprehensive plans for improving physical conditions and heritage conservation. This will lead to a regional development plan and small town development initiatives. The experiences are also being utilized for the development of Vadtal village in Kheda district.

The Tera village in Bhuj has been declared as Heritage Village of Government of Gujarat and establishment of an Interpretation Centre along with Heritage Walk has been proposed for the development of the village.

HUDCO-AMC Collaboration: Finance always plays an important role for successful implementation of renewal projects. Particularly housing finance and building repair loan segment could play an important role. On 31st January 2000, HUDCO board has approved the heritage exploration with investment in the septennial of a Heritage sector. On the 18th of April, on the occasion of World Heritage day a MOU was signed between AMC and HUDCO to detailing the financial implication in this sector.

International Collaborations

AMC-French Govt. Collaboration: International agencies should be contacted to share the experiences of various agencies working in this field. This will give a wider perspective and awareness of the methods and approaches. On 14th of January 2000, empowered with 74th comment of our constitution, AMC signed MOU with French Government for a scientific study of the Walled City. This was initially for one year and was later extended. A French team along with AMC staff worked jointly to achieve these goals. MOU was signed between Government of France, AMC and HUDCO for the implementation of the programme for historic city conservation in Ahmedabad on 19th December 2001. On 18th of February 2003 an agreement between Government of France and Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation was signed for the establishment of the Ahmedabad Heritage Centre. Financial Agreement was signed for Historic City Conservation in Ahmedabad between Government of France and HUDCO for providing subsidy in building repair loan on 16th June 2003.

AMC-Dutch Govt. Collaboration: Dutch had a small presence in Ahmedabad in earlier days in connection with trade & commerce. A Dutch factory and graveyard still reminds their past presence in the city. Restoration and an interpretation booklet exploring the related history in under way.

The Dutch cemetery, on the east side of the Kankaria Lake is a historic site. On the cemetery are four types of tombs: domed tombs, pyramids, ‘walled’ tombs and plain gravestones. The tombs were badly damaged by the earthquake of 2001. The Archaeological Department with the support of Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation restored them to original shape.

World Monument Fund listing: Walled City of Ahmedabad was included in the list of endangered heritage sites by the World Monument Fund during the year 1998-1999. This was used to intensify the conservation activities in Walled City and generate international attention.

The 300-year-old Dwarkadheesh Temple in Boua ni Pol, partially destroyed in the earthquake of 2001 received the attention of the World Monument Watch to be listed in its most endangered 100 sites in the World in the year 2002 and the World Monument Fund has awarded a sum of $32000 for the renovation of Dwarkadheesh Temple through the World Monument Fund Robert Wilson Challenge Fund for restoration of the temple which is currently undergoing.

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