A lack of space is what prompted the National Museum to display artefacts outside its building. There was, however, one problem. With priceless antiquities out in the open, the museum authorities had no option but to step up security. So up went the security at its entry and exit points, with paramilitary personnel checking visitors and employees using hand-held metal detectors. Door-frame metal detectors and X-ray bag scanners too have been installed at both points to ensure complete security.
The National Museum — located at 1, Janpath — boasts of over 2 lakh works, including antiquities, stone and bronze sculptures, artefacts from Indus Valley Civilisation, mural paintings and jewellery. It is one of the largest and richest collections in the country. However, the space crunch reportedly prevents the museum from displaying many of its rare pieces.
A major portion of its land at 1, Janpath is being used by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) as its headquarters. Director
General, National Museum, Venu Vasudevan said, “ASI as an agency predates National Museum. It occupies a portion of our land and use it as its office. Right now, we run National Museum from two wings. Once the land used by ASI is free, we would open our third wing there and expand our galleries.”
The space crunch, Vasudevan said, means not just lack of display space but also exhibition and office space.
“Many of our artefacts are lying in reserve. We display a meagre nine per cent of our total collection. Each gallery faces a space shortage. National Museum gets millions of visitors, including foreign dignitaries, every year. So, the kind of exhibition space we need is not available. Many of our antiquities such as sculptures are placed outside, in the open, so that people may get a chance to at least see their heritage,” he said.
According to Vasudevan, the museum spends Rs 5 crore annually on security. Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) personnel man the entire area.
“Some of our precious artefacts are lying in lobbies and areas that are open to all. Our employees are also handling them on a daily basis. So, we take all precautions to ensure no loss. If we had more space, these problems may not have arisen,” Vasudevan said.
Director General, ASI, Rakesh Tiwari said ASI’s proposed new office at Tilak Marg is under construction at present. “We shall hopefully be moving out of National Museum’s property by next year and into our new office,” he said.
According to the audit report of the Comptroller Auditor General (CAG) in 2013, less than five per cent of the museum’s total collection was put on display for the public.
“More than 95 per cent of the objects in the museum are lying in reserve and have never been put on display,” the CAG said in its report. It also said museums have not evolved a rotation policy for displaying the artefacts in their galleries.