The Administrative Report by the Municipal Commissioner for the City of Bombay, 1891 classifies the city’s elected municipal councillors by race. This is the oldest record maintained by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s central archive cell, a tattered volume which reveals that there were 16 Europeans, 20 Parsis, 22 Hindus, 10 Muslims, 3 Portuguese and 1 Jew among the city councillors.
Among other interesting facts, the record also reveals that the principal event undertaken by the corporation in the year 1891 was the inauguration of the Tansa Water Works by the then Viceroy of India, Marquess of Lansdowne.
Located near Shivaji Park in Dadar, the BMC’s seven-storey archive cell has been functioning for the last eight years with a collection of over 1,000 administrative documents till date. The administrative records are some of the oldest documents on civic measures undertaken by the corporation.
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For instance, a report from 1916 notes the project of street widening undertaken in Charni Road for setting up tramways, it also identifies building regulations and measures undertaken to curtail plague in the city. Another record from 1892 talks about the three steamers ordered from England to replace the old fire engines in the city, but the corporation is honest enough to admit delays in the arrival of these machines.
Though this is a storehouse of carefully maintained archives, most of which were brought from the Bhau Daji Lad Museum, the department is hardly frequented by city corporators or civic employees. A record-keeper said, “The cell is open for all the employees and corporators, but no one is even aware of the existence of this department.” When asked about the archive cell, Trushna Vishwasrao, Sena leader in BMC said, “I haven’t visited the department yet, but I agree that corporators must frequent it often.”
To increase awareness, the department also sends Municipal Commissioner Sitaram Kunte and other top officials in the BMC a greeting card worth Rs 5, made of old, recycled paper every year. The card bears a message that reads, “Today’s important document becomes tomorrow’s record and day after’s archive, do not waste old pages, they are the administration’s unique collection.”
Set up in accordance with the Maharashtra Public Records Act, 2005, which also stipulates that every department of the BMC should have public information officers, the department is a library with documents classified in four categories and includes, old policies, circulars and personal records of civic employees.
Jyotish Desai, chief officer of the cell said, “Some of the documents that we procured from the Estates Department have Dadasaheb Phalke’s signature on them.”
The old archives also includes handwritten minutes of meetings. “Earlier the civic staff would make rough notes during the meeting and then write down detailed records in beautiful Devnagari script, unlike now where all one has to do is type and take print outs.” Desai added.
The department with 20 officials follows an elaborate procedure to preserve the old documents. The old pages are first fumigated to remove any fungus, followed by dusting and pagination. Officials also look for pencil or pin marks that are carefully removed through a procedure of de-acidifying the documents. In the final part, every document is laminated for longer life.
Desai also recalls an incident when an official tore an old casual leave certificate by mistake. “We removed the torn pieces from the dustbin, placed it on a mirror with back lights and joined the pieces, altogether re-constructing the certificate. According to us, no paper should ever be torn and shredded, it is our history, preserving it is everybody’s responsibility,” he said.