MCD working on upgrading list of heritage buildings in Delhi

The MCD has set the ball rolling to upgrade its list of heritage buildings, including age-old havelis, and is "in the process" of working out incentives like house tax exemption.

New Delhi: The Municipal Corporation of Delhi has set the ball rolling to upgrade its list of heritage buildings, including age-old havelis, and is "in the process" of working out incentives like house tax exemption so that owners don`t view their property as an "economic burden".

The civic body wants to identify such structures falling under its ambit so that it can work on their preservation.

"We have initiated the process of upgrading our list of heritage buildings, so that we can identify and assess the status of such structures and work on their preservation plans as soon as possible," member Heritage Committee, Municipal Corporation of Delhi, Vartika Sharma said.

While the MCD has been trifurcated 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 our last list made around the trifurcation time in 2011-12, we had identified about 1500 buildings, the count previous to that being 700-800. Among the 1500 heritage structures, about 900 were havelis but, that count is unofficial and, therefore we have initiated this re-listing," Sharma said.

Citing the decision of North Delhi Municipal Corporation to preserve the close to 150-year-old Town Hall as a heritage centre, Sharma said, such projects will breath new lives into these centuries-old structures which are facing the onslaught of commercial lure.

"While North Delhi, the Walled City has possibly the maximum number of havelis and heritage buildings, old structures are spread out in various parts of the city, which has such a layered history," she said.

"Old Delhi, Mehrauli, Civil Lines have lot of havelis like Chunamal ki Haveli, Khazanchi ki Haveli, Namak Haram ki Haveli, among countless others which need attention. But, there are many havelis we don`t know about and this survey will help us identify those buildings," she said.

Sharma said among the heritage buildings under the jurisdiction of the MCD, there are some which are government buildings but its the private houses like the havelis which are difficult to preserve, as it is difficult to convince people to take pride in their heritage and family legacy.

"For government buildings falling in our ambit, like the old St Stephen`s Building and Fraser House at Kashmere Gate, we either ask them to take up the work themselves or we (MCD) offer conservation work to them, if they agree," she said.

"But, private haveli owners, third or fourth generations, who live in the Walled City are not able to appreciate the value and treasure they have been bequeathed with and end up selling those beauties either to builders or are unable to provide upkeep for them, resulting in their rot," Sharma said.

The MCD, she said, is "in process" of providing incentives like "house tax exemptions" and "soft loans", etc. so that heritage and haveli-owners begin to think of their legacy as a "source of earning or saving income" and not as an "economic burden".

"We also want to link the heritage buildings with tourism in the city, so that owners of such buildings, many of which are dotted with intricate carvings can actually become tourist magnets and bring a source of income for the people who own them," she said.

The fresh listing is likely to give a much-needed shot in the arm to the Heritage Committee in identifying heretofore "unseen havelis" as well as in tracing the "missing" ones, which have been by replaced by "modern concrete structures," an MCD source said.

Around 2006-2007, the Heritage Committee had called a meeting of banks, housed in old buildings in the city and the "restoration" of the State Bank of India in Old Delhi`s Chandni Chowk area was a result of that initiative.
Delhi government`s Department of Archaeology has notified about 30 heritage buildings and therefore the work of civic bodies in listing an preserving the city`s heritage not falling under either Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), state archaeology, INTACH becomes of great importance.
The MCD initiative in this direction is likely to give a fillip to the city of Delhi, which is vying to earn the World Heritage City tag after its recent application to the UNESCO for the coveted title.