Several hours of original audio footage of Mahatma Gandhi was left with a little-known private TV production company for at least two days, without a legal undertaking to guard against its damage or duplication.
Original documents — manuscripts, photographs and audio-video tapes — of the Mahatma are worth millions of dollars in the international market.
Authorised treasure house National Gandhi Museum handed over the 47-hour footage to the company to make a biopic for it. The only precaution it took: an "agreement" on a plain sheet — not on legally valid paper.
The footage contained the Mahatma's "post-prayer meetings" at Birla House after Independence, and other talks.
Members of the museum's governing board told HT
that museum director Varsha Das violated procedures when she passed on the tapes to CML Multimedia Pvt Ltd, a Delhi-based firm with no experience of making films on historical personalities. According to them, Das kept the chairman of the governing body, BR Nanda, and others in the 13-member board, in the dark. Nanda refused to comment.
Das denied any wrongdoing. She said original tapes were provided to the company in the museum's interest. The museum was producing the 25-minute biopic, based on a biography written by Nanda, and it was in the fitness of things that the best available raw stock was provided, she said.
Das said the museum had finalised agreements on a plain sheet in the past as well, and added the company had returned the original tapes in two days. The deal was signed on May 19.
But the governing body members had more charges: no permission was taken from the Information and Broadcasting Ministry to part with the tapes. There is an agreement between the ministry and the government-assisted museum that material relating to the Mahatma should be kept as archival matter and cannot be used for commercial purposes.
Also, the museum did not depute any official to ensure that the tapes were not illegally copied. Private companies normally have to pay lakhs of rupees to obtain every single minute of footage of such historical nature.
The footage in question also relates to the Mahatma's talks on issues like communal harmony and cow protection.
Archival material cannot be taken out of the museum without the most stringent procedures being followed, former museum director YP Anand said.
This is not the first time that Das has come under attack. The museum's deputy director Anil Dutt Mishra in a recent letter to the governing body chairman had complained: "Regulations have been regularly flouted during the past one year and several lapses have happened. Rare books have also been disappearing from the museum."
However, Das, whose powers have been clipped following complaints, said that certain individuals with vested interests were attempting to obstruct her path.
CML Multimedia is essentially engaged in production of corporate films and has never attempted a single documentary on any historical personality so far, the company's promoter N Murali confirmed.