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The Conservation Society - Delhi

Delhi, without any doubt has a rich heritage. This is obvious in the many monuments, gardens and edifices which came up during different phases of its existence. Out of the fourteen hundred monuments identified in Delhi some years ago, as many as five hundred no longer exist. Thus the Conservation Society of Delhi has taken up arms to preserve a rich heritage. Their activities are participatory in their approach and involve people from different walks of life such as students, local communities, professionals and the general public.

The Conservation Society, Delhi (CSD) is a leader as far as conserving Delhi’s heritage is concerned—the name being self-explanatory of its aim and focus. Founded by Kamala Devi Chattopadhyaya in 1984, the Conservation Society, Delhi is a voluntary citizens’ pressure group which aims at preserving the build environment and architectural heritage within the restricted jurisdiction of the National Capital Territory of Delhi. Its members, a total of 148, include architects, archeologists, teachers, students, social scientists and eminent citizens of Delhi. The various professional skills of the members lend to CSD tremendous expertise and resource potential to tackle the toughest conservation job. Nalini Thakur, president CSD, clarifies further the goal of the organization: “CSD is keen to preserve not only the physical remnants of Delhi’s heritage but also the intangible ethos that lend strength and vitality to its cultural environment”. According to CSD, conservation is not the realm of just a few specialists but should be a concern for all citizens, young and old.

Awareness building is one of CSD’s major activities—in fact, the brochure for the organization succinctly states that dissemination of knowledge and promotion of citizen’s awareness, appreciation and abiding interest is the conservation of Delhi’s rich heritage of historic settlements, landscape assets and monuments is one of the main objectives. The other objective include organizing and conducting study courses, seminars, lectures and workshop demonstrations on subjects related to Delhi’s heritage, involving children in conservation activities by holding special camps and workshops and assisting other agencies like the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and INTACH.

The CSD awareness building programmes are innovative and are guaranteed to make Delhi wallahs take a second look at their city. The concepts the CSD has pioneered in this process are ‘Radiscovery of Historic Delhi’, ‘Archaeological Park at Mehrauli’ and ‘Historic Delhi as a Playground for Learning’. It was perceived that most Delhi wallahs were unaware of Delhi’s heritage and that it was essential to uncover for them the various facets of the city. Thus the concept of rediscovering Delhi’s heritage by organizing walks and talks for the general public, schoolchildren and teachers. Heritage walks and trails through areas of historical and conservation interest are organized free of cost from October to April every year. Every Sunday, groups of visitors are taken around the different areas by members of the CSD who have a wealth of information based on serious research of the area. Thus, the CSD heritage walks are a veritable educational experience. The areas covered by these walks include Lalkot, Sultan Ghari, Khirkee Masjid and Satpula, Tughlakabad, South Extension and Kotla Mubarakpur, Chirag Delhi, Lodhi Tombs, Nizamuddin East, Lal Bangla in the Golf course, Sher Shah Gate and Matka Pir, Purana Quila, Chandni Chowk, Salimgarh, Kashmiri Gate, India Gate, Lutyens Delhi, Hastal, Mehrauli of the Last Mughal, archaeological excavations at Lalkot and other recent excavations in Delhi. In fact, so popular are the walks that very often people come back year after year.

Mehrauli, one of the 111 traditional settlements within Delhi termed as urban villages, has been of special significance for CSD members for quite some time. In 1988, CSD was successful in saving the 16th century Chaumachi tomb at Mehrauli from demolition by a land developer. In fact, CSD won the public litigation field in this matter in the Supreme Court. The heritage of Mehrauli has suffered from the usual problems of demolition, forcible occupation and vandalism. Appalled at the state of the heritage in the area, both build up and environmental, CSD launched the Mehrauli Archaeological Park concept to safeguard the are. The important sites identified by the CSD in the region include Lal Kot, the 11th century citadel of the Tomar Rajputs, the Hauz Shamsi tank build by Shamsuddin Iltutmish, the Qutub complex built by Qutubuddin Aibek, Iltutmish and Alauddin Khilji, the Jahaz Mahal, the 15th century Lodhi palace used today as the venue of the Phoolwalon ki Sair festival, Rajon Ki Bain built during the reign of Sikander Lodhi, Madhi Masjid from the Lodhi or early Mughal period, Jamali Kamali Tomb and Mosque built by Sheikh Fazlullah, Adam Khan’s tomb, Jharna, the 19th century Zafar Mahal palace and Dilkusha, the garden built by Thomas Metcalfe and the Bazaar. In association with INTACH Delhi, CSD has brought out a set of well researched maps on the heritage of Mehrauli. Nalini Thakur has authored a comprehensive report on Mehrauli for INTACH which also suggests a methodology to accommodate both community needs and heritage conservation in the area. Unfortunately, the follow up by the concerned authorities has not been very satisfactory.

Over the years, CSD has held many interesting events to promote conservation of heritage in Delhi. In 1993, on World Heritage Day (18 April), a Kavi Sammelan (Poet’s Meet) was organized at the Lodhi Gardens where poets were asked to recite poems composed by them on Delhi. Thanks to CSD’s efforts, the Qutub Complex became a World Heritage Site in December 1993 and therefore, in 1994, it was the focus of the grand celebrations on World Heritage Day. Students from more than thirteen city schools participated in drawing, essay and poetry writing and painting competitions based on the various buildings in the Qutub Complex and the response was extremely gratifying. In 1995, a series of talks were held at the India International Centre, Delhi on the various aspects of the city’s heritage. The idea was to promote historic Delhi as a World Heritage City and to bring together people from varied professional backgrounds to examine different aspects of Delhi’s heritage. CSD also has to its credit the campaign to save the India Gate Chhatri from being demolished and the institution of a Conservation Cell in the Delhi Development Authority.

Today, as Delhi gears up to face the challenges of the 21st century, the issues linked to heritage conservation and development are becoming more complex. CSD can take pride in the knowledge that it has put conservation on the agenda for India’s fastest growing city and has converted many of its citizens into committed Delhi wallahs—a fact highlighted in their brochure which also has another expansion for the acronym CSD—Concerned with Safeguarding Delhi. Any way, there is no doubting CSD’s priority –that of preserving Delhi’s heritage for posterity.

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