On the face of it, it seems like a formidable contest. Mumbai's ensemble architecture pitted against Delhi's glorious history. The prize, a world heritage tag from the Unesco, seems well worth the effort.
However, while Team Delhi has appraised the value of the tag and is putting together a concerted, government-backed campaign, Mumbai's pitch is being prepared by its citizens who are hamstrung by lack of enthusiasm from the state government. The implication: Mumbai's dossier may not be ready in time for submission.
The Government of India can nominate one site each under natural and cultural category for the United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) world heritage tag. The Delhi government, through its consultants, is reportedly preparing a detailed dossier in time for the India's official submission in January next year.
In Mumbai's case, the funds required to put together a comprehensive submission dossier - Rs15 lakh - were sanctioned only a few weeks ago. Sources said it was unlikely that all work would be done in time. "It helps if the government actively pushes it. Though we got a commitment from chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, it was more us citizens pushing the case," said open spaces campaigner Nayana Kathpalia. An official from the chief minister's office said the government would be pleased to support citizens' initiatives.
Mumbai's submission, titled The Victorian & Art Deco Ensemble of Mumbai, is mounted on a limited canvas. It documents a part of south Mumbai and includes structures in the Backbay Reclamation area, those around the Oval Maidan, right up to Marine Drive. In contrast, the national capital's pitch, titled Delhi - A Heritage City, shows off the architectural and cultural diversities of Mehrauli, Nizamuddin, Shahjahanabad and New Delhi.
Mumbai's pitch is centered around the Oval Maidan. "To the east of the Oval lies the historic Fort area with its monumental 19th century Victorian neo-gothic buildings; to its west stand the 20th century art deco buildings of Backbay Reclamation and Marine Drive. Together, these two architectural ensembles constitute the most remarkable collection of Victorian and art deco buildings, the largest such conglomeration of these two genres of architecture in the world," the submission states.
It pitches hard for the heritage tag on grounds that "no other city in the world has both these ensembles of 19th and 20th century styles facing each other in one grand gesture of urban design".
"We believe the Mumbai case is stronger because ours is a more homogenous area and also because the city has demonstrated an awareness and management of its heritage structures since 1995, which may score points with Unesco," said conservationist Abha Narain Lambah, who is preparing the dossier on behalf of the Urban Design Research Institute and other groups. "The race for the world heritage tag has now truly begun."