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'No delays from our side?

The article concerns the restored Dr Bahu Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum, which won the 2005-06 UNESCO award of excellence.

india Updated: Feb 13, 2007 03:41 IST
Tasneem Zakaria Mehta
Tasneem Zakaria Mehta

I am really upset at the inaccurate reporting in HT concerning me, and the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), which I head (Why can’t we get in yet? HT, Feb 10).

The article concerns the restored Dr Bahu Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum (the erstwhile Victoria and Albert Museum in Byculla), which won the 2005-06 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) award of excellence — the highest international recognition in the field of conservation and restoration.

The project, however, goes much beyond restoration. It has tried to set a new paradigm for cultural institutions in the country. I successfully raised Rs 2 crore from Rahul and Niraj Bajaj for the restoration, and the three parties – INTACH, The Bajaj Foundation and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation — signed an agreement that resulted in a management trust for the museum.

The trustees are eminent citizens of Mumbai like Shyam Benegal and Pheroza Godrej, besides Rahul, Niraj and Minal Bajaj among others. The mayor who is the chairman and the municipal commissioner who is co-chairman, as well as other members, represent the corporation.

The project has been ongoing and we have achieved some remarkable successes, even if I say so myself, primarily because all three stakeholders were committed to making it a success. I have not only been project director and designer, but also managing trustee and honorary director of the management trust and the museum.

As you can imagine, a project of this scale is an ongoing effort. The UNESCO award was only for the first phase of the project, which involved the building restoration and the display. Subsequently we have been involved with archiving, cataloguing and creating an information database, which is the most important function of the museum. About 3,500 museum objects have been restored.

We have also augmented the staff and modernised an outdated and almost non-existent infrastructure. The intention has been to create a new institution of which the city could be proud and which would equal the best in the world. Four years of intensive effort has gone into the project.

Visitors like Mark Jones, the director of the Victorian and Albert museum, London, with whom we have worked out a formal partnership, said: “The achievement is immensely impressive”. Marshall Bouton, former director of the Asia Society in New York, now president of the Chicago foreign relations committee, has said: “What you have achieved is nothing short of miraculous and a great contribution not only to Mumbai but also to the Indian nation.”

Given this background I was disturbed at the criticism and lack of effort to corroborate the facts with me. I was at a conference in Goa and, therefore, could not answer calls.

The HT report accuses INTACH of delaying the opening and depriving the city of access to an important institution. It suggests that we only want Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (to inaugurate it), who has not given us the time even though he has been to the city thrice. This is a most unfortunate spin on an event over which we had no control. Instead of celebrating an achievement the report has vitiated the atmosphere.

The media should be supporting rather than undermining institutions such as ours that are genuinely working towards the improvement of the urban environment.

The opening of the museum has been delayed because of ongoing work, which, given the scale of the project, is not at all unusual. Given its importance as a city museum we felt that a grand function would more befit the occasion, which required us to use the outdoor space. This was not possible during the monsoon. And immediately after the monsoon the city election code prevented us from opening. Fortunately, the Prime Minister gave us a date as soon as the elections were over and the museum was to have opened on February 9.

We ourselves are only just recovering from the disappointment of the PM’s postponement. The PMO has stated that it will be giving us another date in early March. If this is not feasible, I am sure the trustees will take a correct decision regarding the opening.

It is important that a respectable paper like the HT makes every effort in getting its facts correct rather than engaging in such irresponsible reporting.

Tasneem Zakaria Mehta, managing trustee and honorary director of management trust, Dr Bahu Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum

Our reporter replies: I tried to get in touch with Ms Mehta for over two days. She did not respond to phone calls or SMS. The information for the story came from senior government officials who work with INTACH. There were no personal references to Ms Mehta in the story. The restoration work at the museum is a magnificent effort and, as the accompanying photographs amply showed, it will make Mumbai proud. None of this was questioned.

First Published: Feb 13, 2007 03:41 IST