The Nizamuddin Urban Renewal Initiative is an experiment in heritage and urban rejuvenation in the heart of New Delhi, which should make every Delhiite proud. The restoration of Humayun’s Tomb and its gardens, as well as the development of Sunder Nursery are well known, but few are aware of the urban rejuvenation in the Nizamuddin Basti that is being carried out without much fanfare by a team of dedicated young professionals led by Ratish Nanda. The basti is one of Delhi’s oldest settlements. It not only has an impressive collection of Indo-Islamic monuments dating back 700 years, but has also been a fountain of performing arts and host to a living culture of festivals and processions.
The master plan of Delhi lists Nizamuddin Basti as Mirza Ghalib Barakhamba Colony. The colony, I am solemnly told, is not a slum and it is not an urban village, that is, it is not ‘lal dora’. It is not clear whether it is authorised or unauthorised, but for sure, it is a non-regularised colony. I don’t know what to make of all this. Like the master plan, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) website also lists this as Mirza Ghalib Barakhamba Colony. Even though the basti lacks a ‘formal’ identity, the urban renewal of this inner city area has been done with a great deal of sensitivity, thanks to the public-private partnership and engagement and empowerment of the community.
In 2004, Humayun’s Tomb was the venue for hosting a function to give away the Aga Khan Awards for Architecture. Speaking on that occasion, PM Manmohan Singh had emphasised the importance of local area development as an approach for conservation. It was this call by the PM in the presence of the Aga Khan that prompted the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) to take the restoration forward. It led to the first of its kind public-private partnership project for the renewal of Nizamuddin Basti involving the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the MCD, the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) and the AKTC, in 2007. This partnership has provided a fine example of urban renewal. The setting was perfect for reviving the living culture and historic past of the community, which had been struggling for space, sanitation and opportunity.
The Sufi saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya is known as the patron saint of Delhi. He paid little heed to worldly riches and power. On learning that the saint