Santiniketan on UNESCO World Heritage list, but how is the list decided?

Sushim Mukul
Sushim MukulSep 18, 2023 | 11:07

Santiniketan on UNESCO World Heritage list, but how is the list decided?

Caves at Ajanta, Ellora, Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal were the first Indian sites on the list (1983). Photo: Unsplash/DailyO

Santiniketan, the Bengal town, nurtured by Asia's first Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, earned the coveted UNESCO's World Heritage tag on Sunday (September 17).

The town established by the Nobel laureate's father, later developed by Tagore himself into Santiniketan, meaning 'abode of peace,' eventually became the foundation for the renowned Visva Bharati University.

UNESCO, the United Nation's specialised body, on X (formerly Twitter) announced the inclusion by saying, " New inscription on the @UNESCO #WorldHeritage List: Santiniketan, #India. Congratulations!"


Santiniketan's journey to the UNESCO Heritage List started way back in 2010 and was officially initiated in 2020-21 following the Ministry of Culture's proposal dossier for its inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List. India, after Shantiniketan's inclusion houses 52 sites in total.

Not only historical or archaeological sites, but customs, traditions and places that are ecologically distinct and important are also conferred with the tag.

So, let us have a look at how a place, of what kind gets into the heritage list, basically the criteria and processes.

Criteria for UNESCO World Heritage selection

To get into the list, a site must be of "outstanding universal value" and meet at least one out of ten selection criteria that UNESCO has laid out, based on the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention.

Here they are: 

  1. The first and foremost is that the site can be a masterpiece of human creative genius.

  2. It would have to exhibit an important interchange of human values over time or within a cultural area, reflecting developments in various fields.

  3. A site should bear a unique testimony to a cultural tradition or civilisation, whether living or extinct.

  4. It can be an outstanding example bearing significant stages in human history, encompassing buildings, architecture, technology, or landscapes.

  5. The site should show a traditional human settlement, land use, or sea use representative of a culture or human interaction with the environment, especially when facing irreversible changes.

  1. A site having a tangible association with events, living traditions, ideas, beliefs, and artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance is also permitted for nomination.

  2. Sites containing superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance are considered too.

  3. A site representing major stages of Earth's history, including geological processes and significant landforms is also included.

  4. A site illustrating significant ongoing ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, freshwater, coastal, and marine ecosystems also finds a place.

  5. A site containing significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity is also considered for inclusion in the list.

Nomination and selection

  • The journey to UNESCO World Heritage recognition begins with a country's identification of its significant cultural, natural and mixed sites in a document known as the Tentative List.
  • Subsequently, the country can select sites from this list and prepare a Nomination File, which undergoes evaluation by the International Council on Monuments and Sites and the World Conservation Union.
  • These two bodies, then provide recommendations to the World Heritage Committee, which convenes annually to finally determine new designations.
  • Sometimes, the Committee may defer its decision or request additional information from the nominating country. The Committee can also decline a nomination or remove the site from the list altogether.

Countries also have the option to request extensions, boundary changes, name modifications, or alterations to the selection criteria for already listed sites, because heritage isn't stagnant.

What are the perks?

  • Being included on the UNESCO World Heritage List brings international recognition and legal protection to the site.
  • It can also provide access to funds from sources like the World Heritage Fund to support conservation efforts.

UNESCO encourages countries and local populations to commit to heritage conservation, offering help for endangered sites, providing expertise and training, and supporting public awareness initiatives carried out by the member states.

Last updated: September 18, 2023 | 11:07
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