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Going online: Mughal-era documents, property papers dating back to 1870

Touted as a “first-of-its-kind exercise in Asia”, the project, announced by Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia on August 31, 2017, is a work in progress, with an ambitious aim of digitising and uploading 4 crore documents over 30 months.

Written by Somya Lakhani | New Delhi |
February 12, 2019 1:06:22 am
At the Delhi government’s Department of Archives office in Qutab Institutional Area. (Express photo by Amit Mehra)

From February 13, at least 60 lakh documents — including Mughal emperor Shah Alam II’s 19th Century farman, partition decrees, and property papers dating back to 1870 — will be available free of cost to the public, with the launch of the Delhi government’s ‘e-abhilekh’ website.

Touted as a “first-of-its-kind exercise in Asia”, the project, announced by Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia on August 31, 2017, is a work in progress, with an ambitious aim of digitising and uploading 4 crore documents over 30 months. These include 500 pages of the 41-day trial of poet-king Bahadur Shah Zafar in 1858.

The budget for the project is Rs 29.46 crore.

“This is our collective history… The Delhi government is proud to put out this material in the public domain,” said Sisodia.

At the Delhi government’s Department of Archives office, there are 26 scanners procured from Germany to digitise A2-sized documents, and two overhead scanners for A0-sized ones. (Express photo by Amit Mehra)

At the Delhi government’s Department of Archives office, there are 26 scanners procured from Germany to digitise A2-sized documents, and two overhead scanners for A0-sized ones. A team of 150 works on the documents five days a week, nine hours a day.

“There will be three user interfaces — for Indian scholars, foreign scholars and the general public. They have been catalogued, tagged and meta-tagged. Once you register and log in, you can view all the data, and a small fee has to be paid if a user wants to download a

document,” said Abhinandita Mathur, advisor to Sisodia in the Art, Culture and Language Department, under which the project falls. The download fee is yet to be decided.

“While it’s very significant for students and scholars, it’s essentially a people’s archive, as they will have access to property documents dating back to 1870, and this can be used for legal purposes,” said Sanjay Garg, Archivist, Department of Archives.

Last July, a team of 30 was added to the project to conserve paper so brittle that it can’t even be touched — from an old map of the railway network in Delhi to private manuscripts in Awadhi and Braj. So far, approximately three lakh pages have undergone physical conservation at the department.

“The documents are more than a century old and in such bad shape that if we touch them, they will crumble and turn to dust. So we began this process of physical conservation last year, using German tissue paper and thin polyester film, which is used as additional support. It has now extended their lifespan by 100 years,” said Garg.

On one floor of their office at the Qutab Institutional Area, the team sports masks and gloves as it works on property papers, manuscripts, jail records, court decrees and Mughal-era documents. “The documents are so dusty, we have to wear a mask,” said Garg.

“Apart from documents in a bad condition, the other challenge was dealing with maps and blueprints of buildings as they are all larger than A0 size, and we don’t have scanners for that. Digitisation in these cases is done in parts, and is very time consuming,” said Garg.

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