Central Vista: How will records in National Archives annexe be kept safe, historians ask department

Central Vista: How will records in National Archives annexe be kept safe, historians ask department

More than 100 historians from India and across the world have written to the head of the National Archives, seeking clarity on how documents stored in the department’s annexe, which is proposed to be demolished and replaced with a new building as part of the Central Vista redevelopment project, will be kept safe.

The main building of the National Archives will not be demolished, the Centre has said.

The signatories, who include professors from top American and Indian universities, said the National Archives of India’s annexe building houses several important documents relevant to historical research. “What is to become of the materials currently in this Annexe building?” they asked National Archives Director General Chandan Sinha in their letter.

The historians added: “We seek further information about the deliberations on the proposed rehousing of these materials and the plan of action to keep the records safe during and after the demolition and rebuilding of the Annexe.”

The historians sough clarity on the timeline for the completion of the redevelopment of the National Archives annexe and access to records stored there, so that scholars could plan their research projects accordingly. “Historians from central and state universities from all over India and the world use these papers for their research,” they added.

The signatories of the letter also sought to know if the National Archives consulted archivists and other stakeholders to assess the need for the future storage of the records.

The historians asked how the change in the National Archives’ land-use status from “public and semi-public” to “government” will impact the access that scholars have to the materials stored there.

Full text of the letter to National Archives of India head:

Dear Shri Chandan Sinha,

We, the undersigned, are scholars, students, archivists, and researchers who seek transparency about the proposed changes to the National Archives of India (NAI) , New Delhi during the planned demolition of its current Annexe building as part of the Central Vista Project. A statement to the media on May 20, 2021 by the Hon. Minister of Culture Shri Prahlad Singh Patel seeks to assure researchers and the public that the records will be stored and maintained safely during the redevelopment project. 

However, we seek further clarity from you because as the Director General of the NAI, you bear fiduciary responsibility for the Archive’s record storage and building redevelopment. The NAI is the custodian of an invaluable repository of historical documents that pertain to important political, social and cultural developments across the country. It belongs as much to India’s diverse citizenry and regions as it does to the sovereign state. Historians from central and state universities from all over India and the world use these papers for their research. We therefore consider your response to be essential to ensure the NAI’s future as an accessible public space for pursuing historical research by scholars and members of a diverse, multi-lingual public.

1. When and how was the redevelopment deemed necessary? We would like to learn how the NAI consulted with the needs of the archivists and other stakeholders to assess the needs for the future storage of the records development and the status of the buildings in the complex. We would like to know the process by which this discussion unfolded including the public and expert committees that were consulted for the decision to redevelop the site as part of the Central Vista Redevelopment.

2. Land-use status of the National Archives: As part of the Central Vista Project, we have learned that the land-use status of the land on which the old as well as proposed new building of the National Archives has been changed from Public and Semi-Public Land Use (PS1, Socio-Cultural) to Government Land Use (G3 , Govt. offices) vide the Change in Land Use notification issued by MoHUA on 20.03.2020. We learned that the entire campus was notified as a Grade 1 Heritage Site by the Lt. Governor of Delhi on 1st October, 2009 (F. No. 4/2/2009/UD/l 6565) which places restrictions on redevelopment. The Mission of the National Archives of India, as stated on its website, is to “encourage greater liberalisation of access to archival holdings.” Its Citizen’s Charter, also on the website, states that the Archives provide “facilities for the public use of reference media, records and publications” from its holdings”. How will this change in land use status affect this public-oriented mission, and the rules that govern the public’s access to the National Archives? We seek clarity about
the reason behind this change in land use, and details about the deliberations with various stakeholders – professional historians, public consultation, expert committee-deliberations that preceded this decision.

3. New Annexe Building: The Hon. Minister [Culture Minister Prahlad Singh Patel] has stated on 20th May 2021 that there will be no change to the old building, and that it is the Annexe building that is to be demolished and rebuilt. While the Hon. Minister has declared that “all the important records are kept in the old building,” the Annexe building also houses several important materials relevant to historical research. What is to become of the materials currently in this Annexe building? We seek further information about the deliberations on the proposed rehousing of these materials, and the plan of action to keep the records safe during and after the demolition and rebuilding of the Annexe. In this regard and given this is a protected heritage site, we also seek clarity about whether the new proposed Annexe building is large enough and adequate to house not just its current holdings but also those that will accumulate in the decades to come. What percentage of the NAI’s holdings have been digitized or microfilmed to date, and how will the digitization process be affected by the impending move?

4. Access during redevelopment: As you are aware, researchers from doctoral scholars to senior historians have to plan their research schedules well in advance when submitting grant applications, research proposals, or making travel plans for doing archival research. A Culture Ministry official has been quoted in the media as saying that the redevelopment could Take up to 2026 to be completed. The NAI, we hear in the media, might be completed in 2024. The complete lack of any clarity about this timeline of redevelopment has left us dismayed about how to plan for research in the coming years and guide our students accordingly. Therefore, we seek concrete responses to the following questions: What is the anticipated schedule for the National Archives to move all its records to its new home? What will be the phases of this work, and how will this affect the availability of records, either fully or partially, to scholars during the transfer process? Has this schedule and its protocols of transfer been drawn up in consultation with professional historians and archivists? If so, we seek clarity on the deliberations of these decisions. 

It is imperative that the NAI make all this information available in the public domain, beginning with the process undertaken to decide that redevelopment was necessary, the way in which the NAI intends to plan the schedule of phases of transfer, and any plans for partially or fully closing the National Archives available to researchers and the public. The National Archives of India’s holdings tell the story of a diverse and interconnected people who comprise the Union of India. This story pertains not only to the past, but the present as well, since not only historians turn to the archive, but also people from various professions: lawyers, doctors, artists, property developers, government departments who consult records from different historical eras, regions, languages, and scripts for their work. The lack of official information in the public domain from the Director General’s office concerns us greatly as potential unplanned or unanticipated disruption to access will have a huge impact on the NAI’s myriad users and well wishers.

We therefore urge you to respond actively and positively through a detailed communication on your website to all our concerns in this letter. We also urge you to involve us, the scholarly public, in these consultations regarding the future of the NAI. We look forward to hearing from you.

— Historians and students to National Archives Director General Chandan Sinha.


Also read: Central Vista project raises the question: Who owns the National Archives of India?

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