UNESCO tag yet Ahmedabad needs to do more

Debashish Nayak, Director, Centre for Heritage Management of Ahmedabad University has been working for over two decades as advisor to the Heritage Programme of Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) for revitalisation of the ‘Historic Walled City.’ An architect with over two decades of experience in managing urban conservation issues of ‘historic cities’ in both India and abroad, he is also the recipient of Lifetime Achievement Award for “Enterprising Conservation of Heritage Properties” from West Bengal Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi. Talking to
Urban Vaastu, he opens his heart about the lack of awareness among the people and government bodies in preserving our priceless architectural heritage for coming generations

What has been the response to your short-term management programmes from professionals in heritage organisations and craftsmen?
We began with programmes like “the heritage walk for 5 days” which is a good way to introduce a person to the city. If you don’t know the city you can’t do good or bad with it. So knowing your city comes first. And then there’s another 5-day programme called Cultural Resources and Training (CCRT) for government officials aimed at promoting case-writing on heritage management issues. With funding from European Union and Spain we did a heritage management start-up. This programme lasts 30 months. Short term courses are crucial for students doing masters.

Can you tell us about your two-year Master of Management Studies (Heritage Management) course?
Master’s Programme in Heritage Management is one of its kind in India. It emphasises on critical understanding of heritage, and holistic management approach to heritage sector. The curriculum includes a diverse range of heritage sectors spanning tangible and intangible, cultural and natural, historic and contemporary/living with emphasis on management. A unique programme with lectures, seminars, discussion, group work and field-learning culminating in thesis.
Designed for four semesters, we had 15 enrollments in the first year. Then it came to 12. People do come for interview and are more interested in job prospects. But heritage management is a subject of passion. When heritage conservation started in NID and IIM, nobody was interested in studying management. We spread awareness among the companies about the programmes.

How many such courses do you offer every year?
Short courses and management. We also do projects. No expansion plans yet. Public discussions and debates are welcome and age is no bar. We have students from 24 to 60 and a 60-year-old student is punctual.

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Designed for four semesters, we had 15 enrollments in the first year. Then it came to 12. People do come for interview and are more interested in job prospects. But heritage management is a subject of passion.

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Does the word ‘heritage’ attract lot of students these days?
Not yet. They are curious and do ask questions. Prefer short term courses but the attraction is still missing. Though response is picking up not on enrollment side.

Do you also get foreign students, especially from the developing world?
No. A few inquiries came from Egypt and Bangladesh but for short-term courses and not for management. With our fees low compared to the US and Europe, there is hope that enrollment will go up. Our focus now is on Indian students learning about heritage.

Centre for Heritage Management is involved in bringing institutions and corporates together for ‘mission heritage’ activities in India. Are there any recent initiatives?
Funding from Europe and Spain has helped in creating some awareness. Take for example the “National Heritage Areas” in the US. These are community-led conservation and development. National Heritage Areas are places where historic, cultural, and natural resources combine to form, nationally important landscapes. Unlike national parks, National Heritage Areas are large live-in landscapes. It is a multi-disciplinary project and we should collaborate with many universities around the world. In India, we collaborated with Gujarat Ecology Constitution, Dehradun Wildlife Institute, Banglanatak.com in Calcutta, Khamir in Kutch. There are 253 cities recognized as world heritage. Ahmedabad is the first city in India to be named as “world heritage city.” Now there is clamour for more cities to be named as “world heritage city.”

Does the centre have close ties with similar institutions elsewhere in the world? Which are these institutions and what kind of collaboration you have with them?
We collaborated with many institutions. From universities outside India to those in the country. Our programmes range from student exchange, faculties exchange and experience exchange.

You advise many Indian city bodies on heritage programmes. Any major achievement because of these interactions?

We are working in Lucknow for UP tourism and Punjab tourism. We renovated and repaired many havelis in historic places. I am advising many cities in India, and if they call us to promote, I will visit and guide them. We worked hard to make Ahmedabad a world heritage city. But there’s no proper awareness among people or government bodies.

UNESCO recently declared Ahmedabad as World heritage city. What will be its impact?
The impact is so high that people have started using the phrase “Oh, you live in world heritage city.” It made an impact in India and Asia and in economy terms it is thumbs up. People now know more about the city and those working in this sector see their work recognized. Trade has increased. It also means understanding the importance of preserving heritage monuments.

Are you satisfied with the way conservation is being done for over two-dozen ASI-protected monuments in Ahmedabad?
Lot needs to be done. At least they are protected. More than 42 monuments are there and strict laws are needed to safeguard them. It’s a slow progress yet work goes on.
Most ancient structures in India are deteriorating rapidly. What is the solution? Can a replica be made to keep the heritage intact?
Depends on situation to situation. Not every monument is deteriorating. Pollution is a threat and dedicated groups are conserving our heritage. There are plenty of monuments & heritage buildings. All need proper care.