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Draft legislation on Gandhi papers

The Govt will evolve a policy to preserve the freedom struggle heritage and prevent sale of documents authored by Gandhi, reports S Jha.

delhi Updated: Aug 20, 2007 01:22 IST
Srinand Jha

With a draft legislation aiming to strengthen India's ownership rights on all papers/documents of Mahatma Gandhi now being processed, the UPA government has set in motion the process of evolving a comprehensive policy for preserving the heritage of the freedom struggle.

Borrowing from guidelines and recommendations from a team of experts of the Nehru National Memorial and Library (NMML), Law ministry officials are processing the draft law aiming to define the possible flow of Gandhi's papers from India as being an illegal act. <b1>

At the instance of the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), the Culture Ministry had directed the NMML to prepare a draft document defining and asserting India's legal rights over papers/documents authored by Gandhi. The initiative comes with the aim of preventing the possibility of a repetition of the Christie's affair, when an article authored by the Mahatma was being put to auction.

The proposed law will seek to provide for a statutory architecture for preventing the commercialisation of such documents in India and abroad. The ministries concerned are scrutinizing the draft proposals that were submitted last week, NMML Director Mridula Mukherjee said.

The Ahmedabad-based Navjivan Trust is the repository of all Gandhi documents in accordance with the Mahatma's will. However, there are other categories of papers- documents gone missing and possibly sold off by unscrupulous agents in India and abroad and letters that the Mahatma wrote to friends, family members or other individuals. "Retrieving such papers and ensuring its safekeeping for future generations is the need", Gandhi Museum director Varsha Das said.

In the absence of a policy or law on the subject, historical documents or papers have remained in a state of neglect. Several heritage sites and buildings associated with the freedom movement have been encroached, destroyed or run to ruin. "Monuments are governed by the Ancient Monuments Act (which is concerned about monuments more than 100 years old), while sites/buildings linked to the freedom struggle are much younger", senior advocate Anil Naurya pointed out - while highlighting the need for enacting a separate legislation for preserving monuments of the period of the freedom struggle.

Tasks are huge and the challenges can only be confronted by tackling them in a multi-faceted manner, eminent Gandhian N Vasudevan said. He emphasised on the "critical need" for setting up the infrastructure to provide for the scientific preservation of the Mahatma's manuscripts and documents. Noted Hindi litterateur Rajendra Yadav said that in order to be acceptable or relevant, the proposed legislation needed to have a comprehensive approach. "Gandhi papers are fine, but what about the documents of Bhagat Singh, Ambedkar or Nehru," he asked.