Every nook and corner of the Walled City has a story to tell–from the sprawling havelis that have witnessed the glory of Mughal and British empires, to the many galis, chowks and bazaars that have evolved over generations.
After years of researching and surveying, Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) has finally completed the challenging task of documenting heritage buildings in the area. There are 1,064 such buildings now-an increase of 300 over the previous list. The new survey lists 303 havelis (mostly owned privately) and other buildings that were overlooked earlier.
The municipal corporation had notified 187 Old Delhi properties as protected several years ago. When heritage experts insisted on protection for many more buildings, INTACH published a list of nearly 550 buildings, mostly privately owned havelis, that had unique architectural features. This list is still pending notification with the urban development department.
“Meanwhile, we realised that there were still more properties in the Walled City that had been overlooked,” said an INTACH official. “We started surveying the streets and identifying properties that had historical elements in them-anything from old railings to arches–and listed them for protection. In the final survey we found 303 buildings and havelis. All the properties have been graded in terms of architectural and heritage value.” The list includes notable havelis like Namak Haram ki Haveli in Chandni Chowk as well as gateways in Old Delhi’s mohallas that had not been included earlier. Most of the properties are from the Colonial period, but some date back to the Sultanate and Mughal eras. Most of the havelis are located in the congested lanes of Sitaram Bazaar, Khari Baoli, Kucha Pati Ram, Hauz Qazi and the Jama Masjid area.While some are in relatively good condition, many are falling to pieces as their owners have not maintained them.
“The objective of the survey was also to identify these heritage havelis and give their owners incentives and support to preserve them. The final list has been sent to Shahjahanabad Redevelopment Corporation, which is framing policies to give incentives to haveli owners for maintaining the buildings as well as financial assistance,” said an official.The scheme is open to notified heritage buildings.
“People who want to demolish their havelis do not want them notified as heritage properties. We need to prevent this. Once notified, a heritage building cannot be demolished or even altered without municipal permission,” added the official.
Only a fourth of the 1,064 listed heritage properties in the Walled City have any kind of protection. In recent times, a number of old havelis have collapsed due to neglect or the impact of unauthorised construction in their vicinity .
Officials say Old Delhi is not just a hotspot for foreigners and other visitors across the country , but also a sign of how the capital has grown through the centuries. It is part of Delhi’s nomination for a UNESCO world heritage inscription that highlights the contrasting lifestyles of Old and New Delhi. INTACH’s listing will be part of an extensive volume of Old Delhi’s heritage and become a reference point for visitors and scholars in the future.