Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Ahead of Games, National Museum lies neglected

Even as thousands of crores are spent to spruce up Delhi for the Commonwealth Games, a must-visit for foreigners, the National Museum, remains in a sorry state with almost half the galleries shut. Even of those open, some are in a state of utter neglect and most have remained unchanged for over a decade since they were first mounted.

Incidentally, the museum comes under the ministry of culture, a portfolio held by PM Manmohan Singh himself. A stone’s throw from the PM’s residence and Parliament house, the museum, home to some of the most valuable artefacts in the country, hasn’t had a permanent director general (DG) for almost five years. A joint secretary in the ministry, Dr V S Madan, has additional charge of DG of the National Museum.

“A museum ought to be headed by a qualified and senior museologist and not a bureaucrat. But the museum has seen a string of bureaucrats heading it at various times,” said a senior museologist who did not wish to be named.

Of the 15 galleries, seven are closed. Many have been closed for several years and no one seems to know when or whether they will ever reopen. Barring a few galleries like the gallery of paintings, miniature paintings and of the Harappan civilization, the institution, hailed as the country’s premier museum, has a weary air of neglect and boredom. Other than a sketchy audio tour in Hindi, English, Japanese, French and German, there is little to help visitors beyond the drily written and fading explanations displayed next to the various artefacts.

“Some of the galleries, like the coins gallery, which has coins from the 2nd century BC to modern times, have remained untouched for years. There is no effort to make the collection interesting or appealing to the visitors. It is row upon row of glass cases with coins,” remarked a senior museologist.

“One of the most important jobs of a museum is to preserve and conserve the artefacts in its collection. With a near-defunct conservation department, one wonders what is happening to the artefacts, especially the manuscripts. The manuscripts gallery has been closed for over five years. The manuscripts department does not have even a curator. Manuscripts are delicate objects vulnerable to mishandling, pollution and humidity,” said another senior museologist.

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