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When Ahmed Shah laid the foundation of Ahmedabad on 26th February 1411, he would not have imagined in his wildest dream that this city will become India’s first World Heritage City! Of course, in last six centuries, Ahmedabad
has grown in all directions and with a population of more than 6.3 million, today it is the sixth largest city and seventh largest metropolitan area of India.

This piece is dedicated to the Walled City, situated on the eastern banks of the river Sabarmati, spread in about 5.43 sq kms with a population of 3.75 lacs. Compared to the total area of today’s Ahmedabad, which is 464 sq kms, we are talking of roughly 1.20 percent area that makes-up the Walled City, which is recognised by UNESCO as World Heritage City.

This 5.43 sq km walled city has 28 ASI protected monuments, which include several Indo-Saracenic monuments of 15th-17th century. It has about 700 pols, with unique multireligious and multicultural coexistence. That’s the reason, the inscription has been done under Criteria (ii) and (v) as defined in the UNESCO’s Operational Guidelines, 2016. Criterion (ii) refers to the important interchange of human values, over a span of time, on development of architecture, monumental arts, town planning and landscape while criterion (v) refers to being an outstanding example of human settlement and land use.

But as they say, development has a cost and as a result, despite having unique fabric of communal harmony and a rich architectural heritage, people started migrating from the Walled City for modern living and amenities, post establishment of railway link between Ahmedabad and Mumbai in 1864. The result of the shift is as expected - Ahmedabad’s prized pol houses are becoming subject to neglect and deterioration. The changes in land use and revenue laws have added fuel to fire! The irony is, while I was talking to one developer about this honour to the City, he exclaimed that now the land prices will go up! Though unfortunate, this is the reality of India’s first World Heritage City, where people are more concerned with the lucrative Transferable Development Rights (TDR),
rather than cultural recognition of the City!

Here comes the menace of gentrification, a term coined by London sociologist Ruth Glass in 1960, which in simple terms means “buying and renovation of houses and stores in deteriorated urban neighbourhoods by upper - or middle-income families or individuals, raising property values but often displacing low-income families and small businesses”. She further adds that, “once started, gentrification can progress rapidly until all or most of the original working class occupiers are displaced, and the whole social character of the district is changed.” The displacement of poorer families and small businesses and the disappearance of their local culture and history are among the negative outcomes of such gentrification, she adds.

While Ahmedabad newspapers are flooded with views and interviews of a handful of the City’s elites, I am afraid that unless there is an awareness about heritage conservation amongst the masses (which is beyond TDR), we will continue to lose our valuable and priceless heritage and perhaps, the prized UNESCO inscription! I am afraid that, if this ‘Khushboo Gujarat Ki’ is not maintained and nurtured, our GenNext will never know the warmth of pol houses or the the cultural identity of this great City, let alone the dream of bringing Bilbao Effect, post the inscription...

KAMAL KHOKHANI
Publisher - INSITE