National Museum artefacts belong to nation, not govt: TMC MP

In a letter, ex-Prasar Bharti CEO Jawhar Sircar has questioned if the government is aware of the dangers of shifting priceless artefacts housed in the museum

National Museum, New Delhi (Photo: @Jairam_Ramesh/X)
National Museum, New Delhi (Photo: @Jairam_Ramesh/X)

Ashlin Mathew

In a letter to Union housing and urban affairs minister Hardeep Singh Puri and Union minister of culture GK Reddy, Trinamool Congress MP Jawhar Sircar has questioned the government over reports that the National Museum was being vacated and wondered if the government was aware of the dangers of shifting priceless artefacts housed in the building. He stressed that these treasures belong to the nation, “not to any temporary government holding power”.

In his letter, Sircar questioned why only the National Museum had received a notice to vacate the premises when Krishi Bhavan and Shastri Bhavan, which have been earmarked in the Central Vista for two Common Central Secretariat (CCS) buildings, remain functional and there is no sign of demolition. The same goes for Udyog Bhawan and Nirman Bhavan.

“One, therefore, does not understand why the most important building in this area, the National Museum, has reportedly received a notice to prepare for vacating the premises. If I understand it correctly, the government had decided to shift the National Museum to the north and south blocks only after the occupants of these two buildings were shifted to the new CCS buildings. Time would be needed for necessary civil, electric and exhibition/ display works and to accommodate a tourist-heavy museum of the Indian nation by transforming the bureaucratic office space,” pointed out Sircar in his letter.

It was reported that the National Museum may be shut by the end of the year and could be demolished by early-2024. Officials of the National Museum were reportedly told by the ministry of culture to try to vacate their existing building on Janpath as part of the Central Vista redevelopment project.

According to news reports, the new museum, Yug Yugeen Bharat, is set to come up in the north and south blocks at Raisina Hill. Currently, these blocks primarily house the ministry of finance, home ministry, prime minister’s office, ministry of defence and ministry of external affairs.

He wanted to know why the National Museum was being targeted for demolition at such an early stage, when “buildings that are essential in the chain before it, have not been constructed”.

Wondering when the decision to demolish the museum was taken, Sircar pointed out in his letter to Reddy that he had responded to Sircar’s question in the Rajya Sabha on 9 December 2021, stating that “no decision regarding the demolition of National Museum was taken”.

In the 2021 winter session of Parliament, Sircar raised multiple questions on the culture ministry’s interest in a central storage facility for museum collections. In his letter to Reddy, Sircar mentions he had raised several issues such as discussions with stakeholders, need for different temperatures, light, and other requirements for several special categories of artefacts. He wanted to know if the government was aware that moving artefacts around is fraught with dangers of pilfering and substitution of originals. However, the minister had not responded to these queries posed by Sircar in Parliament.

In his partial response to Sircar’s questions, Reddy had said the National Museum has 2,06,169 objects, of which 80,997 are photo documented and digitally recorded files. “Unless there has been phenomenal progress in the intervening 1.5 years, I shudder to think how nearly one lakh priceless artefacts of the National Museum are planned to be packaged, transported, stored, re-transported and relocated to the North/South Block building for the next three years – when primary documentation, digitisation of records and clear photo documents and objects are yet to be done. Can you enlighten?” asked Sircar.

In the same letter, the former Prasar Bharati CEO said Reddy had mentioned in another Parliament response to him that 93 posts had been abolished in the National Museum and another 93 were lying vacant. Since the museum was short-staffed, Sircar wanted to know how the government proposed to manage the entire process of identifying, documenting, packing and transporting the irreplaceable “national treasures from the Museum building to elsewhere”.

In his letter to Puri too, Sircar cautioned that the government should not proceed without complete and adequate knowledge of the tremendous complexities in handling over two lakh priceless objects, first to an intermediate storage space, and then to north and south blocks.

Last week, the Congress too had criticised the Modi government for its decision to vacate the National Museum. “Yet another majestic building that combines finely the modern with the traditional is to vanish by the end of this year. The National Museum designed by GB Deolalikar and inaugurated in December 1960 is being demolished. Incidentally, he also designed the main block of the Supreme Court which hopefully will survive,” wrote Congress MP Jairam Ramesh in a post on X.

The Congress leader said there is no guarantee that this national treasure will survive the proposed relocation. “The nation loses not just a majestic structure but also loses a piece of its recent history which is the target of a systematic erasure campaign of the Prime Minister. It has over 2,00,000 priceless exhibits and there is no guarantee that this national treasure will survive the supposed relocation," he wrote.

It is not immediately clear whether the 63-year-old building will be demolished. The National Museum was first inaugurated in Rashtrapati Bhavan on 15 August 1949 by C Rajagopalachari. It then moved to the present building on Janpath Road in December 1960.

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