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Over 50 years in making

delhi Updated: Oct 03, 2009 23:27 IST
Satyen Mohapatra

How long does it take to complete a project? One year, five years, 10 years... surely not more than 20 years.

But if you’re talking about Delhi’s National Museum, it’s 54 years and counting!

Then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru laid the foundation stone of the museum in May 1955 and it was inaugurated on December 18, 1960.

In the 49 years since its inauguration, only two phases of the building have been completed. The second phase was completed around 20 years ago.

Former museum director-general and chairman of Indian Art History Congress RD Choudhury met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last September 4 about the issue. He expressed regret that “Nehru’s dream had not been fulfilled till today.”

According to museum officials, who wished to remain anonymous, the matter has been hanging for years. This is because it hasn’t been decided yet if the head office of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) should be shifted out.

The head office occupies prime area on which the third phase of the museum was supposed to come up.

ASI officials, however, say they are ready to shift their headquarters to another ASI office. The office presently houses the National Mission on Monuments and Antiquities at Tilak Marg-Sikandra Road close to Tilak Bridge. But they could shift only after their own building comes up there .The foundation stone of the building is yet to be laid.

Both the National Museum and the ASI are under the Ministry of Culture.

On September, 2003, then Union tourism and culture minister Jagmohan had laid the foundation stone for the third phase of the museum. This was done at the initiative of Choudhury, then director-general.

The government had then sanctioned Rs 55 lakh for the shifting of the air-conditioning plant to the ASI and to initiate the demolition of their existing building, museum officials said.

The third phase — the final phase of the National Museum complex as per the blueprint prepared initially — will cost Rs 33.26 crore, as estimated by the central public works department in 2003.

After completion, the entrance to the museum would be transformed. Lawns and fountains would face Maulana Azad Road Road, adjacent to Vigyan Bhavan.

“This is the first time a Prime Minister has taken charge of the culture ministry. In the past, no PM took charge of this ministry, considering culture a low-priority area,” Choudhury said.

In a memorandum to the PM, Choudhury, on behalf of the Indian Art History Congress, has urged the setting up of a central museum in each state under the National Museum.

The memorandum also asks for four regional museums — in Tamil Nadu representing the south, in Rajasthan or Gujarat representing the west, in Jammu and Kashmir representing the northern and in Guwahati representing the east and northeast. All of them would be under the aegis of the National Museum.

They would help create job opportunities for students of art history, ancient Indian history, culture, archaeology and conservation, the memorandum added.