An Indian initiative to build a gallery at an international Buddhist museum in Kandy, Sri Lanka, has hit a controversy, with the culture ministry refusing to take charge of the project proposed by the ministry of external affairs (MEA).
The culture ministry, headed by Kumari Selja, has mounted a scathing attack on the MEA, headed by SM Krishna, citing procedural lapses and a 21-fold inflation of the project cost from Rs 53.8 lakh in 2009 to Rs 8.56 crore in March 2011.
Sixteen Asian countries with Buddhist traditions, including China, Japan, Vietnam and Thailand, are also involved in the project proposed by the MEA in 2009.
The culture ministry has told the MEA that the National Museum in Delhi is “not in a position to take up the work on the MEA’s behalf”. In addition, it has advised an “open and transparent bidding process” to select an agency to carry out the project.
India’s high commissioner to Sri Lanka, Ashok Kantha, refused to comment and the press counselor advised HT to approach the MEA for a response.
The culture ministry placed the roadblock on the project days after Kantha and culture secretary Jawhar Sircar discussed it in end-August this year.
Earlier, the National Museum had deputed its curator, JE Dawson, to visit Sri Lanka in May 2009.
Dawson submitted a report in October 2009 to the MEA, indicating that Rs 53.8 lakh would be required for the project. From then, things were in free fall, a culture ministry official said. The culture ministry also did not take kindly to the MEA dealing directly with the National Museum.
The MEA made arrangements to appoint Dawson as the project coordinator in January 2011 and also appointed a project assistant.
Dawson and his assistant then submitted a revised estimate of Rs 8.56 crore for the project on the basis of a survey by a private party, whose selection has been questioned by the culture ministry.
When HT sought Sircar’s comments, his office said he was on tour and would be able to respond only after his return on Monday.
Dawson said, “I cannot speak to the media. But I don’t think that two wings of the government, the culture ministry and the MEA, can have different views on the issue.