From 2006 to 2013, the France-UNESCO Cooperation Agreement, with the support of the French Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has been providing support to the UNESCO Regional Office in New Delhi to promote the emergence of a network of historic cities and to help develop and implement projects. Support for the creation of the network of Indian historic cities is one of the long term activities of the France-UNESCO Cooperation Agreement, which helped to develop and structure a network of multilateral and bilateral cooperation between cities, while implementing specific operations on urban diagnostic and training through the financial support of the ministries member of the France-UNESCO Cooperation Agreement and through the expertise made available.
In 2006, the UNESCO Regional Office in New Delhi has taken initiatives, in conjunction with the Indian authorities, for the preservation of historic centers in India. India is experiencing rapid economic development and profound changes which have had a significant effect on land use: multiplication of road and industrial infrastructures, urban expansion etc. The conservation of historical centers is therefore an urgent issue. It was against this background that UNESCO proposed to establish a Heritage Commission and to create a network of Indian historical cities. The Indian Heritage Cities Network (IHCN) was created in order to raise awareness among professionals and policy makers. Its inception was supported by the France-UNESCO Cooperation Agreement and bilateral cooperation, mobilizing French expertise in terms of urban conservation (Ministry of Culture, Centre des hautes études de Chaillot, French historic cities network – l’Association des Villes et Pays d’Art et d’Histoire et des Villes à Secteur sauvegardé ANVPAH & VSSP) – a French historic cities network -- and on the incentive policy to decentralise cooperation.
In September 2006 a launch seminar took place in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India, after which ten Indian cities signed a charter committing to create a network of heritage cities and cities of culture; the Indian Heritage Cities network (IHCN). Other Indian cities were also called upon to take part in the initiative. The Seminar allowed discussions on the issues of urban conservation and development based on conservation and enhancement of cultural heritage of historic cities. It was an opportunity to present a series of case studies and to gather a diverse set of stakeholders: representatives of the federal government planning department – Ministry of Urbanism, Indian Ministry of Culture- of the State of Rajasthan, of the city of Jaipur; associations and foundations involved in the protection and enhancement of the heritage (such as the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage - INTACH, the Fondation Jaipur Virasat); representatives of Indian cities or World Heritage sites. ANPAH & VSSP and several French cities such as Aix-en Provence, Bordeaux, Chinon, La Rochelle, Nancy, Rennes et la Région Centre, took part in the seminar. The World Heritage Centre was also present, represented by the Secretariat for the France-UNESCO Cooperation Agreement.
In 2007 a seminar was held in Chennai, in the Chettinad region of the State of Tamil Nadu, on the specific questions of training and the preservation of heritage in small towns and villages where there are houses which have remarkable architectural qualities but which are deserted and being vandalized or destroyed.
That same year, as part of the France-UNESCO Cooperation Agreement, a mission took place in Rajasthan to provide technical support for the preparation of regulatory documentation for the cities. A study tour to France was organized in September 2008 for the representatives of nine Indian cities, including both elected representatives and technical staff, who visited Paris, Rennes, the Loire Valley, La Rochelle and Bordeaux. The ultimate goal of this mission was to provide examples of management and integrated planning where heritage was treated as an essential component of the urban site. The Indian delegation expressed its desire to continue these exchanges between networks. A synthesis of the study tour is available online.
With regard to strengthening the institutional framework, the Indian Heritage Cities network organized meetings every two-years to discuss subjects relating to city management and the inclusion of heritage in the development of these cities. The second biennial meeting of the Indian Heritage Cities Network took place in Hyderabad from 18 to 20 December 2008, and helped to formalize a Statute of the IHCN and a governing council, with approximately thirteen elected members representing cities, states and governments, plus international experts and international NGOs.
Thereafter, the main objective was to enable the network of Indian cities to grow autonomously and to identify priority areas for action. UNESCO continued to play the role of facilitator and support the establishment of long term cooperation arrangements in order to allow access to technical and financial support for project diagnostics and project engineering. The network became an independent organization and has been a foundation since 2012.
The first Conference on decentralized Franco-Indian cooperation was organized by the French Ministry for Foreign and European Affairs, the French Embassy in India and the Indian Government, and took place in New Delhi from 15 to 17 January 2010 as part of the Festival of France in India, “Bonjour India”. The Chief Minister of the State of Rajasthan, who attended the Conference, pledged funding of 6 million euros in 2010 for the “Virasat Vikas” programme (on heritage as a source of development).
Mechanisms were put in place to allow technical assistance and French expertise to be provided to the cities of Madhya Pradesh and partnerships were formed between the cities of Rennes and Bhopal and Chinon and Maheshwar, as well as a cooperative arrangement between Cochin and Lorient, which benefit from institutional and technical support.
A capacity-building workshop took place from 21 to 25 November 2011 in Mysore, on planning tools for urban heritage conservation and the development of Mysore. The workshop helped raise awareness among participants of planning and heritage issues which will help the city of Mysore to implement a sustainable approach to urban development in the areas to be protected.
Finally, the “Seminar on Economics of Heritage” (Pune and Bangalore, 10-14 December 2012 was used to study the interaction between the economic and cultural values of tangible heritage and the impact of development and rehabilitation projects, in terms of both heritage conservation and consideration of the intrinsic qualities of heritage and its potential as an economic resource. Since 2012, the theme of Economics of Heritage is one of the main focus areas for reflection which, up until now, had scarcely been explored even though it is of paramount importance in India, and thereby allowed for the consideration of heritage conservation from a sustainability point of view. Interactions with economists were fructuous, and UNESCO and IHCN intend to extend their reflection on the subject.
The 4th biennial Conference meeting of the IHCN was held in Pune, Maharashtra from the 20th to the 22nd of November 2013, and was jointly organized by IHCN, Pune Municipal Corporation and the UNESCO Office in New Delhi, with the support of the France-UNESCO Cooperation Agreement and the French Embassy. The Conference focused on the thematic “Economics of Living Heritage Cities”, a very important topic in order to change the perception of heritage conservation and fully take into consideration the urban heritage as an engine of development.
ANVPAH and the French local authorities took part in the 4th Conference, as well as the Secretariat for the France-UNESCO Cooperation Agreement which made an opening speech, which was recorded and filmed in Paris, and then broadcasted at the opening of the Conference in Pune.
The speech is available online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVppNHcMzpo
On the occasion of the Pune Conference, several events took place, including:
A new website was elaborated for the IHCN including more features (such as downloading and broadcasting of videos, maps, application forms or online submission of dossiers). It also supports the internal work of the network.
Subsequently the perspective for 2014-2015 was to continue to provide support to the Indian cities network mainly at a bilateral level. IHCN and UNESCO extended this field of activity by proposing training packages, which allow the cities to develop their own Detailed Project Report (DPR).
In 2014, UNESCO and IHCN organized awareness raising and training workshops for city managers and technicians at the city and state level. The goal was to train future trainers for the development of an urban study and planning workshop within the framework of the Urban development program, Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM).