Saturday, August 28, 2010

No Plans for Heritage Sites

The story of modern New Delhi began at this spot. It was here the King Emperor announced with great pomp on December 11, 1911, that the capital would move from Calcutta, but barely 38 days before the Commonwealth Games, Delhi Tourism admits it has no plans for the derelict wasteland called the Coronation Memorial.

This unconcern is seen to make bad business sense, ahead of a sporting event that is themed around a commonwealth of former colonies and expects to draw thousands of tourists from countries that have had a similar experience with imperialism.

At least 7 lakh British tourists visit India every year and thousands more from other former British colonies. British expats here agree their countrymen would be happy to pay good money to see the Memorial’s towering obelisk announcing the imperial Delhi c 1911 on the exact spot where King George V and Queen Mary sat. The Memorial, in the far north of the capital, hosted three imperial darbars in 1877, 1903 and 1911 and the canny English rulers of the day exploited marketing opportunities by selling souvenir guide books and hawking to Brook Bond Tea, the right to supply the Darbar’s official beverage.

But Delhi Tourism is clear it ‘‘has no plans as yet to include Coronation Memorial in its itinerary’’. Planning manager Amarjeet Singh adds that ‘‘the department as yet hasn’t received or mulled over any proposal to conduct visitors to the Coronation Memorial through day trips.’’

Tourism plans for the forlorn park have been in the works for five years but the site remains a junkyard of Raj-era statues, all but engulfed by tick-ridden undergrowth.

In November 2005, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), India’s leading non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of heritage, announced they would restore the park as a tourist attraction.

But Brijesh Chander, DDA executive engineer responsible for the north zone, admits there is still no concrete plan in place and ‘‘the entire project of beautification and restoration of the Memorial is going to cost DDA around Rs 22 crore, for which INTACH has been appointed as consultant as well as implementer, (but the project) will only be completed by December 2011.

Chander said that ‘‘if some foreign tourists want to visit the Memorial during Commonwealth Games, we are trying to complete the entrance road that leads to the main pillar. For the rest, people have to wait till the end of next year.’’

The Memorial’s woeful state of neglect contrasts oddly with DDA’s stated intentions, as of October 30, 2007, in its approved Draft Zonal Development Plan. The Plan says, Coronation Memorial reminds of the foundation stone laid for Imperial Delhi as the new capital of India which was subsequently shifted at Raisina hill.

Coronation Park houses the marble statues of King George V, which was originally under the canopy at India Gate, and the other important personalities of the British period in India. An earlier zonal plan had proposed to develop this land as a play area for special children, similar to the one existing at India Gate.

The land around Coronation Pillar is under the jurisdiction of L&DO.It is near to NH-1 bypass and therefore it has the potential of being developed as a tourist spot. The adjoining area earmarked for green/water body can be taken for development of sports facilities, etc.

However, none of this has happened so far. In June 2009, Delhi announced it wanted to be one of 220 UNESCO World Heritage Cities and would create a heritage tourism route linking at least 30 big and small historical monuments, starting at the Coronation Memorial. The pilot project, funded by the World Monuments Fund (WMF), gave $200,000 as a start-up grant and the Memorial was meant to be part of this.

A G K Menon, convener of INTACH Delhi Chapter, which was asked by DDA to restore the Memorial, says,’ We are chalking out major plans for the Memorial’s centenary celebrations on December 11, 2011. By then, we shall be able to renovate and upgrade it. It is largely a conservation project of the 50-55 acres of the park area but it also requires some construction work such as building a cafe, souvenir shops, interpretation centres and a small museum or a photo gallery in the campus.

The entire plan would be implemented before the December 2011 deadline, even though we may not be able to tap the Commonwealth tourism this year.’’