There is a buzz of activity on the sprawling premises of Kolkata’s Indian Museum. Workers are busy mixing cement with sand in corners, officials are bustling past each other with stacks of papers in their hands and the shrill drone of electric drills is a continuous background noise. The museum is celebrating its bicentennial in the first week of February and everyone seems to be in a hurry to meet the deadline for a grand celebration. Founded in 1814, the museum is regarded as the earliest and largest in India and Asia Pacific region. In recent years, it has also earned the dubious reputation of being the most controversy-mired one. And the damage to the 2,200-year-old Rampurva Lion Capital during the ongoing renovation work seems to be just the tip of the iceberg.
Worse, none of the top brass seems inclined to speak openly about what ails the institution. The renovation work is being monitored by West Bengal Governor M K Narayanan, who is also chairman of the museum’s board of trustees. When contacted after the incident, Narayanan said, “Nothing has been broken as far as I know.”
Attempts were also made to push the incident under the carpet. When some staff members of the museum protested, the authorities hurriedly appointed an internal inquiry committee.
“Things are quite murky here,” admits a senior official on condition of anonymity. Recently, rumours abounded that a runaway boy had spent the night beside a 4,000-year-old Egyptian mummy at the museum. In 2010, the same Egyptian mummy had been found damaged. The Harappan Gallery has been closed for a decade now. Then there were questions raised on the safety of artefacts as the security gadgets were either defunct or underutilised.
“The CCTV cameras don’t work beyond 5 pm, which is ridiculous. Theft is least likely to occur during working hours. The museum remains unmonitored all night,” says a senior official.
Security at the museum has been a concern for more than a decade now. In December 2004, a 7th century sandstone bust of the Buddha was stolen from the archaeology gallery.
It is, however, the recent flush of funds that has raised more questions. The Union Culture Ministry sanctioned Rs 120 crore for renovation in the current financial year and another Rs 20 crore each for four successive years. The National Building Construction Company has been engaged for the work. “The museum authorities proposed to the Central government that a project manager, project officer and a project assistant would regulate the expenditure and oversee the work,” says a senior officer. Basudev Dasgupta was appointed as the Officer on Special Duty and Project Manager. He is also the Drawing and Disbursing officer of the project, who is supposed to ensure that financial matters are in order. “How can he hold both the posts?” asks a senior officer.
When we meet him in his well-appointed office, Dasgupta is a picture of confidence. “You continued…