Determining India's role as a World Heritage Committee Member, UNESCO (2011-2015)

Heritage Architecture Dated:  Aug. 10, 2015
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Women in Architecture
Organised by SPA, New Delhi at IIC, June 6, 2015

While India has been on the World Heritage Committee thrice since it ratified the World Heritage Convention in 1977, it is in its last term (2011-2015) that the State Party was able to project a professional face as a Committee member. In November 2011 when India stood for World Heritage Committee elections at the UNESCO General Assembly session, it was questioned on its professional credibility by other voting member states. As a response to this, and recognising the need for a more professional approach to World Heritage at a national level; the Ministry of Culture created an advisory committee of experts with a balanced representation of women architects, urban designers, heritage experts, landscape architects, conservation and heritage professionals in the committee.

The Advisory Committee worked from 2011 -2015 at the national level in supporting state governments and UTs for preparing proposals for tentative list and nomination dossiers for World Heritage. Besides making a difference at the National level in India, the Advisory Committee supported all technical interventions from India as a Committee Member in the annual World Heritage Sessions. It was instrumental in making some benchmark changes in UNESCO’s Operational Guidelines and Rules of Procedure for World Heritage to bring about an Asian (and developing world) perspective in documents that otherwise primarily reflect a eurocentric bias. This paper will elaborate on the contributions made to enhance India’s impact as a World Heritage Committee member through author’s own role as Member Secretary of the Advisory Committee on World Heritage for India along with a Secretariat of female professionals.

Determining India’s role as a World Heritage Committee Member, UNESCO (2011-2015):

While women architects have established grounds in research and practice, it is rare for them to be involved in policy making and influencing public sector rules; more so because this field often remains with the bureaucrats rather than experts or professionals. Heritage Conservation is one specialized discipline in India where women architects have truly outshined and one observes a clear gender presence in this profession. Conservation education and conservation practice in India is marked with contributions from a series of well recognized women professionals.  Clearly, they have set benchmarks for this discipline in India since 1990s influencing several public sector policies for heritage conservation at State levels and Central level. This paper specifically deals with one such impact in the field of ‘World Heritage’ in India. This paper will elaborate on the author’s own role as Member Secretary of the Advisory Committee on World Heritage for India and contributions made by the committee to enhance India’s impact as a UNESCO World Heritage Committee member.

Need for creating an Advisory Committee on World Heritage in India:

ASI is the nodal agency on World Heritage matters on behalf of the Ministry of Culture and coordinates on a regular basis with various ministries (Ministry of Environment and Forest, Ministry of Railways, etc.), state governments and agencies, for necessary coordination on matters pertaining to world heritage, including nomination dossiers and tentative list proposals for World Heritage Sites. In the year 2011, following concerns regarding World Heritage of India came to the notice of the Ministry of Culture:

(i) Past record of India of not being able to submit the minimum number of 2 complete nomination dossiers annually (from  2005- 2011) 
(ii) Return of a number of dossiers from the World Heritage Centre back to India on grounds of being technically incomplete (Feb 2009 –Western Ghats, Feb 2011- Qutb Shahi and Great Himalayan National Park)
(iii) Past record of India of not being able to get even 1 inscription annually (2006, 2008, 2009, 2011) and problems faced in defending its existing World Heritage Sites that were placed in Danger list.
(iv) The lack of expertise and manpower available with existing responsible agencies for World Heritage in India and need for capacity building of potential State Government Departments who intend to propose sites on World Heritage in future.
(v) The urgent need for India to be conversant with the evolving dialogue in World Heritage Committee and to bring forth the perspective of Asian and developing countries in the World Heritage Sessions and World Heritage documents that guide the process of inscriptions and conservation of World Heritage sites.

Hence, an Advisory Committee on the World Heritage was set up by the Ministry of Culture in Nov. 2011 to streamline the process of World Heritage and to give recommendations on various aspects related to World Heritage. The Committee comprises senior government representatives from Ministry of Culture, MoEF, Ministry of Railways and distinguished multidisciplinary team of experts including women professionals in the field of conservation and management of world heritage sites as members and Member Secretary of the committee.  It is to be noted that the formation of Advisory Committee on World Heritage on Nov.1, 2011 was recognized as India’s commitment to professionalism in World Heritage and became the precursor for India becoming a World Heritage Committee member by winning the elections at the 18th General Assembly of UNESCO, Paris in Nov. 2011. Thus India played a critical role in all decision making as one of the 21 elected World Heritage Committee member from among a total of 191 voting members states.

Role of the Advisory Committee on World Heritage: 

The primary role of the advisory committee was to review all matters related to World Heritage (Cultural and Natural) of India and to provide recommendations on these to ASI and to the Ministry of Culture i.e. primarily to guide India’s participation as a State Party to the World Heritage Convention 1972.  Its scope of work includes:

(a) To review the tentative list of heritage sites of India on UNESCO List 
(b) To recommend heritage sites for nominations and to review and recommend dossiers to be submitted for inscription on World Heritage List,
(c) To prioritize sites to be nominated in next 3 to 4 years and to ensure support in preparing quality dossiers for those sites.
(d) To examine and support implementation of Site Management Plans for existing World Heritage Sites (WHS) and potential WHS
(e) To undertake special review of World Heritage Sites in Danger and to propose suitable Action Plan
(f) To provide guidance and advice in establishing Category -2 Centre

Besides the above outlined role, the committee was additionally asked to provide recommendations for matters related to participation of India as a member of the World Heritage Committee such as feedback on the role of the convention, position papers for India on World Heritage documents, Rules of Procedure, and Operational Guidelines, appraisals for new nominations and State of Conservation for existing World Heritage properties across the globe.

Extended Role of Advisory Committee on World HeritageExtended Role of Advisory Committee on World Heritagea

Achievements (Nov. 2011- July 2015)

One of the most commendable achievement of Advisory Committee for World Heritage in India  was to open a process of dialogue and consultation between various agencies and organizations dealing with World Heritage of India including State Governments, Ministry of Railways and Ministry of Environment and Forest, NGO’s and UNESCO New Delhi Office. Since its inception in Nov. 2011, ACWHM meticulously worked to achieve the objectives as per its terms of reference.

A complete Revision of Tentative List of India was initiated in Feb. 2012 through a working group under the Advisory Committee chaired and convened by women professionals.  Six zonal consultative workshops across India with participation of all State Governments, UT’s and ASI circles including regional experts and NGOs’ were successfully organized to review proposals for potential World Heritage Sites across India. The Working Group was involved in entire structuring of the workshops, coordination with ASI Circles and State Departments of Forest, Culture, Tourism and Urban Development and local NGOs’ for the workshops and, preparing database of proposed properties. This process generated a nationwide awareness on World Heritage, Conservation and Management of all National and State level sites in India. This was the first initiative of its kind to reach out to all State Governments and NGO’s in India to seek the involvement of a much larger constituency. This initiative is being well appreciated by UNESCO as recorded in WHC-14/38.COM/INF.5F presented at the 38th World Heritage Session at Doha, Qatar in June 2014.  This process helped in strengthening the State Governments to understand the tenets for achieving international heritage stature. A total of 234 sites were submitted from states across India with short listing of about 56 properties by the Tentative List Working Group under the Advisory Committee.  Among these 56 properties, 46 are already placed in the revised tentative list including some pan India nominations such as ‘Satyagrah sites of non-violence freedom movement’ which narrate the Indian story thus filling the previous gaps in typology, chronology etc. Ten Natural Heritage Sites and transnational sites are pending to be taken up by 2016.

The 234 proposals received from various parts of the country provide a useful database to initiate a National List for Heritage (beyond the strictly structured protected heritage under ASI and State Archaeology).  This can be further developed to strengthen conservation and management guidelines for various kinds of heritage across the country by creating National Benchmarks as a step forward to apply for the World Heritage status. As an outcome of this proposal, the Working Group was further involved in defining criteria for National Cultural Heritage Sites by the Ministry of Culture in order to recognize the remaining sites which could not qualify for outstanding universal value even though they have great national significance.

India saw a consistency in World Heritage inscriptions since the formation of the advisory committee with inscription of Western Ghats in 2012, Hill Forts of Rajasthan in 2013 and two  sites inscribed as World Heritage after almost 10 years gap in 2014 i.e. the Great Himalayan National Park in Himachal Pradesh and Rani ki Vav in Patan. The Advisory Committee was involved throughout in the evaluation process for these sites and had vetted dossiers as well as additional information documents submitted to the WH Centre in 2013 and 2014 for the inscribed sites. The Committee also initiated the practice of submitting draft dossiers to the World Heritage Centre every year which helped in an initial check on the completeness status of the nomination dossiers. There was also an increase in the number of annual nominations in 2015 since India could go beyond its allocated number of 2 nominations per year by including a 3rd one of Chandigarh as a transnational nomination submitted through France.

Advisory Committee was involved in the review of proposals submitted for Category 2 Centres (Cultural and Natural) as well as in organizing South Asia Regional Consultative Workshop for Category 2 Centre in India in Sep 2012. International Consultative Workshop (for South Asia Region) in Sep. 2012 had wide participation and appreciation of India’s initiatives for Categroy 2 Centre. It provided overall recommendations for the Vision and Programmes under proposed Category 2 Centres (both Natural and Cultural). The Natural Category 2 Centre is approved by UNESCO while the Cultural one is under process for year 2016.

Advisory Committee members presented a professional outlook giving technical arguments for supporting various countries' nominations and State of Conservation Reports at the world heritage sessions from 2012 to 2014. The committee prepared structured appraisal notes with help of various national experts in India for each case to be presented at the World Heritage Session.

Besides these, India was also instrumental in making benchmark changes in the Rules of Procedure and Operational Guidelines at the 37th session in Cambodia in 2013.  The Advisory Bodies (IUCN and ICCROM) in fact commented that India’s technical approach (including a Cultural and Natural Expert in the delegation) needs to be replicated by other countries on the World Heritage Committee.

Indian delegation actively participated in the daily sessions of the open ended working group for Operational Guidelines. It proposed rephrasing of  Para 61 (Factual errors) and supported deletion of amended Paras 127, 128, 132, 138 and 141 regarding reduction in annual number of nominations (from 45 to 30) and mandatory submission of draft dossier by Sep. 30 of each year.

India was instrumental in an important amendment to the Rules of Procedure regarding Speech of the State Party. It proposed a change in the Rules 22.6 and 22.7 to allow the State Party to speak on its own nominations/SoCs. This amendment was supported by other committee members namely,  South Africa, Japan, UAE, Iraq, Senegal, Malaysia, Mali, Ethiopia, Russian Federation, Thailand, Qatar, Algeria, Senegal, Serbia and the final decision was approved at the session. The Indian delegation also spoke on a number of other items such as Upstream process by Advisory Bodies, Thematic Programmes, and other items as outlined in the for the World Heritage Sessions.

To summarize, the Indian Delegation made a very strong impact at the World Heritage Sessions through various interventions on the State of Conservation Reports and Nominations. India’s specific involvement in its first year as Committee Member in 2012 had marked the beginning of a change in the perspective of the World Heritage Committee which was effectively continued in the 37th session in 2013. This was reflected in benchmark changes adopted for the Operational Guidelines and the Rules of Procedure by the World Heritage Committee. A similar impact continued in the 38th session with the India moving a Decision related to the evaluations of the Advisory bodies towards the end of the 38th session in June 2014.  Many countries thanked the Indian delegation on introducing this decision which reiterated India’s previous agenda on greater dialogue and transparency in the processes of Advisory Bodies and World Heritage Committee. All world heritage sessions were telecast live on the web and audio recordings of each session including India’s intervention on each item are downloadable from the UNESCO website.

Besides the author as the Member Secretary of the Advisory Committee, other women architects who contributed in this process include the advisory committee secretariat with 3 young women professionals Ms Shubru Jha,  Ms Pakhee Kumar and Ms Somi Chatterjee as well as members such as Prof. Jyoti Hosagrahar. Women Advisory Committee members such as Ms Amita Baig and Ms Aruna Bagchee also played an active role in the revision of the tentative list.

This paper is part of the WIA publication brought out at the Women in Architecture Conference organized jointly by the IIA Northern Chapter, SPA and SPA Alumni on June 06, 2015.

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