Capacity Building Programme on Built Heritage Studies & Conservation
Secretary, Mumbai Metropolitan Region – Heritage Conservation Society
As demand for new property in Mumbai has been extremely high; and supply of land has been highly constrained; the only possibilities for creating new real-estate has been through ‘redevelopment’ of old buildings and neighbourhoods. Moreover, property prices have sky-rocketed since the late 1990s and real-estate has become the most popular commodity to invest. The returns of real-estate in recent years have been showing an increase between 30 to 100 percent every year. All stakeholders in the property sector – developers, owners, occupants, estate agents, contractors, investors, etc have been aggressively engaging themselves to have their own piece in the lucrative real-estate pie. Moreover, other actors beyond these direct stakeholders like technocrats, bureaucrats, politicians as well as mafia workers have also demonstrated keen interest in having their share as well. With so many shares, the prices of property have only risen further.
On the other hand, since the early 1990s, many civil society groups and individuals have championed the cause of saving old historic sites in Mumbai. Over the years there have been concerted efforts towards recognising old buildings and neighbourhoods as ‘heritage sites’ and conserving them. Based on ‘historic, cultural, architectural or technological value’, certain sites have been declared as ‘heritage sites’ by the government and regulations were formed restricting demolition, extensions and physical changes on these sites.
But since, the heritage regulations have come into existence, it has faced large opposition. People considered it as an elite obsession with objects of the past and saw it as an infringement on their ‘rights’. This discontent was compounded with an absence of any financial model for conserving the heritage sites. Living in an historic building was not only considered as a loss of opportunity, but also a burden on the pockets of the owners and the occupants. On the other hand, heritage conservation was also pitched against ‘development’ and was seen as ‘anti-development’.
But the problem was more complicated than simply a contradiction between real-estate pressures and an effort to conserve heritage. Many cities in the world with high real-estate value have successfully managed to conserve their historic sites. In these cities, the context for conservation is created by a robust enabling environment of: information systems like maps, signage, websites, etc; awareness activities like talks, walks, tours, publications, etc; and academic endeavours like researches, seminars, training programmes, etc. There are also many supporting institutions like conservation departments in universities and municipalities, NGOs, professional bodies, etc in these cities that have been investing in the cause of heritage. These cities also have a strong economic context for heritage conservation based on tourism. Such enabling environments, supporting institutions and a favourable economy form the ‘ecosystem’ that encourages and nourishes heritage conservation. Such an ecosystem is absent In Mumbai.
However, if one projects Mumbai’s future, there seem to be a strong need emerging to build such an ecosystem. After the decline of the industrial economy in the 1980s, Mumbai saw the rise of the finance, the BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) and the retail sectors. With many business houses setting up their front offices in Mumbai, it has been also a favourite place for commerce. However, the post industrial times have also seen the rise of internet and mobile technologies, which have managed to push expensive and labour intensive activities to cheaper places. They also allowed work from ‘non-office’ spaces. Moreover, many new places around the country like Gurgaon, Hinjewadi, Magarpatta, etc. have lured old and new businesses away from Mumbai. It is simply cheaper and easier to establish and run businesses in these new places. More recently, while one observes the dip in the prices of commercial real-estate in Mumbai, there are also instances of many malls running empty. The city seems to be losing out on its commercial, financial and retail sectors. On the other hand, the population of Mumbai has also not been growing. Between 1991 and 2011, the city’s population has grown much lesser than the national growth. Some places within the city have recorded negative growth between 2001 and 2011. This indicates that while there has been not much new migration in the city, the natural growth has also been substantially less. If the trend continues, in the next twenty years, the city would be a city of the elderly. When the economical and demographical problems are put together, the future of Mumbai looks dark – a city of old people with no work. In such a situation, the city urgently needs to put its act together to regenerate its economy and population.
The only possible option at the moment seems to be based on culture. The film industry, media, food, sports, performing arts, visual arts, music industry, crafts, the sea, the forest and the heritage sites remain to be enduring assets that look capable of generating a powerful economy if managed well. This cultural economy also needs the same ecosystem of encouragement and nourishment that we discussed earlier. Heritage conservation will be a substantial part of the ecosystem. Historic sites are not only assets for exploration, but also infrastructure to hold other components of the cultural economy. It is important to recognise heritage conservation as an important part of generating the cultural economy.
There are about 1700 heritage sites identified in Mumbai and more than 1000 in the rest of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region. Mumbai has also been the first city in the country where a list of heritage sites have been notified by the government and heritage conservation regulations put in place. However, heritage professionals in the city have been just a handful. Moreover, they have been involved largely in preservation of a few important buildings. Also, the only school in the region that provides master’s education in conservation has been struggling with very less intake of students. The city like Mumbai and its metropolitan region requires large number of ‘heritage people’ – to research, to create awareness, to demonstrate, to conduct walks, to gather funds, to regulate, to monitor, and to do many more things.
On the other hand, the discourses around heritage have become stronger since the mid 1990s. Several individuals, professionals, activists and academicians have invested themselves in engaging with different aspects of heritage. The knowledge in the areas and the disciplines looking at them (like historic studies, heritage conservation, environmental studies, etc.) has been evolving. Moreover, numerous direct stakeholders like owners and managers of historic buildings, government officials in charge of historic buildings, etc. have been forced into knowing about heritage conservation and gaining professional knowledge about them. Hence, while a university-type model of education does not seem to interest people; there seems to be immense demand for a mutant-course that would not only familiarise people in various aspects of heritage management, but also train them in specific acts conservation. Such a course should be targeted to specific stakeholders and allow them to participate in it while they continued doing their other activities.
The contexts of two needs – need to set up an ecosystem for heritage conservation and the need to develop a mutant-course in heritage conservation – prompted the Mumbai Metropolitan Region – Heritage Conservation Society (MMR-HCS) to respond with an innovative programme. After a year of intensive discussions, the capacity building programme in Built Heritage Studies and Conservation (BHSC) was launched by the MMR-HCS in collaboration with the the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (the Musuem) and Sir J.J. College of Architecture.
The MMR-HCS was set up by the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) in 1996 with an objective of protecting, conserving and promoting heritage conservation in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region. The MMR-HCS is a unique organization jointly governed by representatives from the government, academic institutions, civil society organizations and independent experts. Over the years, it has initiated and supported over 60 projects that have been significant in developing awareness, supporting research and innovation and supporting actual conservation of heritage sites. An enormous resource base of technical reports, books, films, maps and information on over 2800 heritage sites has been created by the MMR-HCS, which is freely available on an online platform to the public.
The BHSC program aimed at providing a training platform for various stakeholders involved with the multidisciplinary conservation processes including heritage building owners and managers, engineers, architects and planners from government institutes, employees of NGOs working on heritage issues, crafts persons, mid career practitioners and professionals, policy makers as well as heritage enthusiasts. The entire programme is conducted in six modules of five days each. Each module focuses on different aspects of heritage conservation like documentation, condition assessment, materials, structural conservation, heritage management and urban conservation. Experts from all over the country are invited to conduct the different courses. Extensive Field Visits and hands-on experience are the key aspects of the program. The participants are charged a subsidised fee of Rs. 5000 per module. The MMR-HCS has pledged a support of rupees one crore over five years for the programme. While the Museum brought in the dimension of archaeology and conservation; Sir JJ College added the academic rigor along with aspects of architecture and history; and the MMR-HCS lent its experience in legislation, finance and implementation of conservation projects. As different modules focused on different aspects, participants were free to choose the modules that interested them. While this gave flexibility to the participants, it also kept the education focused on specific aspects. Participants completing any of the modules were given a certificate and participants completing all six modules were given a diploma in Built Heritage Studies and Conservation.
While inaugurating the BHSC programme, the Metropolitan Commissioner, UPS Madan stated that, “We feel that newer and alternative ideas of development, growth, progress and equity are required for thinking about the future of our city and the region. And we feel that heritage conservation will provide some of the critical alternatives. This programme is precisely aimed at developing capacities for generating and executing such alternatives. It is with this intention and hope that the MMR-Heritage Conservation Society pledges to stand solidly behind this programme”. This was a clear attempt to move the imagination of heritage conservation from being an elite obsession with the objects of the past towards proposing it as a viable and sustainable development option for Mumbai.
The BHSC programme not only sought to provide providing high quality training to various kinds of stakeholders, but also aimed at generating a network of heritage enthusiasts who would become ambassadors of heritage. The programme also has several ancillary activities like exhibitions, special lectures, seminars, etc that are targeted towards generating interest in heritage across the city. In many ways, the BHSC programme sought to initiate building of an ecosystem for heritage conservation in the tough contexts of Mumbai.