An audit carried out by the Director General of Audit (Central), Mumbai, has found that the National Film Archive of India (NFAI) may have lost or damaged 31,263 reels of archival films over the years. The conclusion, which is disputed by NFAI, was drawn by the audit team after comparing its acquisition registers with the actual number of film cans in its vaults as revealed during a barcode pasting exercise carried out seven years ago.
The Indian Express had first reported this anomaly in September 2017 after obtaining the reports submitted by private firm, Pune-based Cameo Digital Systems Pvt Ltd, which had conducted the barcode pasting exercise. As per reports submitted by Cameo, 51,500 cans of film reels (containing over 9,200 films) which were on the archive’s accession registers “were not physically present” in its vaults. In response to queries, NFAI officials had said that the institution had scrapped 28,401 reels in two instances, in 1995 and 2008, but were not struck off the records.
NFAI officials had also told The Indian Express that as per old staff at NFAI, similar disposal of films were carried out during the time of P K Nair (former director) for which no record is available. “Further, there seems to be duplicate accession numbers given to similar titles for a large number of films (about 400) which underwent treatment during the 1980s,” Prakash Magdum, Director, NFAI, had said.
Magdum had also said that the counting of reels done by Cameo was in terms of cans whereas the records maintained at NFAI were in terms of reels. “This, I believe, is bound to show a mismatch in the final figures,” he said.
Following The Indian Express reports, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) had set up a probe panel headed by filmmaker Shaji N Karun to investigate the lacunae in preservation facilities at NFAI and also to establish the list of films lost by NFAI over the years.
The report submitted by the Director General of Audit based on audit inspections carried out between October 3, 2017 and October 18, 2017 has also found that several film reels could be missing. “From the bills submitted by the contractor and payment made it was observed that as against 1,32,000 film reels/cans available in NFAI’s film acquisition register/Annual Report 2016-17 the contractor had pasted barcode sticker only on 1,00,377 film reels cans, which indicate that more than 31,263 reels/cans were either lost/damaged.”
The audit report also points out that following strictures in its previous reports, NFAI carried out inventory for books in the library. However, similar inventory was not carried out for other important archival material such as film reels, video cassettes, DVDs, books, posters, stills, press clippings, slides, audio CDs, disc records, among other things.
In NFAI’s response submitted to the audit body, it said that the barcode pasting was done for the items which are clear in all aspects like film accession number, basic records etc. “Wherever the bidder had found discrepancies due to clerical error (by film checkers) the firm did not touch those items, therefore it is mentioned that barcode pasting was not done on each and every available assets available in NFAI but on the assets which were clear with film accession numbers.
“Therefore, the contractor could only paste on 1,00,377 films cans for which he got the payment as per actual. This does not mean that rest of film reels 31,263 were lost or damaged,” the report quoting the reply said.
The auditor, however, found the reply unsatisfactory.
“The reply is not satisfactory as the project undertaken by the contractor could not either identify all the film reels in the NFAI or there was any asset management system developed in respect of all the film reels or books… This indicates that neither project could identify all the films or books nor the system had developed any mechanism for physical verification of these stores and stocks,” the report said.