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The International Council of Museums (ICOM) (working with the support of UNESCO) has issued guidelines for disaster preparedness in Museums which are well known to those concerned with the management of Museums. The UNESCO in its quarterly journal “Museum” has suggested measures for security of museum objects in the light of studies undertaken by it. Performance audit of preservation and conservation of Monuments and Antiquities is also conducted by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG).

REPORTABLE

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

CIVIL ORIGINAL JURISDICTION

WRIT PETITION (C) NO.252 OF 2004
SUBHAS DATTA
…PETITIONER

VERSUS

UNION OF INDIA AND ORS. …RESPONDENTS
J U D G M E N T

ADARSH KUMAR GOEL, J.
1. This petition has been filed as public interest litigation on the
issue of protection of historical objects preserved at different places in
the country particularly in various museums. Prayer in the petition is for
a direction for adequate security arrangements and for proper investigation
into the incidents of theft and damage to several historical objects and
also for making an inventory of available articles for future.
2. Initially, the respondent in the writ petition was the Union of India
through Ministry of Human Resource Development but by order of this Court
dated 7th July, 2008, the Director General, National Museum, Janpath, New
Delhi; the Director General, Archaeological Survey of India, Janpath, New
Delhi; the Director, National Gallery of Modern Art, Jaipur House, India
Gate, New Delhi; the Director, India Museum, 27, Jawaharlal Nehru Road,
Kolkata; the Secretary & Curator, Victoria Memorial Hall, 1, Queen Way,
Kolkata; the General Secretary, Asiatic Society, 1, Park Street, Kolkata;
the Director, Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad; the Acting Director, Allahabad
Museum, Allahabad; the Director, Nehru Memorial Museum & Library, Teen
Murti House, New Delhi were impleaded as parties as the said respondents
are directly concerned with the issue raised in the petition.
3. Immediate trigger for the petitioner appears to be the theft of
historical artefacts of Kabiguru Rabindra Nath Tagore, kept in the museum
of Viswabharati University at Santiniketan in West Bengal of which Prime
Minister is the Chancellor. Reference has been made in the petition to the
incident of stealing of golden coins from the Asiatic Society of Calcutta
in the year 1990. Further reference has been made to theft from the Nandan
Art Gallery of Viswabharati University in the year 1984 and also the
incidents of thefts in Victoria Memorial
at Calcutta.
4. Case set out in the petition is that the material at various centres
like Asiatic Society, National Library, Viswabharati University, Victoria
Memorial and other Indian Museums is national asset which needs safety,
security, preservation and maintenance. Under Article 49 of the
Constitution, the State is under obligation to protect every monument,
place or object of artistic or historic interest declared to be of national
importance from spoilation, disfigurement, destruction, removal, disposal
or export, as the case may be. Under Article 51A(f) of the Constitution,
there is fundamental duty to value and preserve the rich heritage of our
composite culture. There should be proper inventory of all historical
objects preserved at different centres and such inventory should be kept at
a central place under the Government of India. There should be periodical
stock taking by an independent agency. Ancient Monuments Preservation Act,
1904 requires proper preservation of objects of archaeological, historical,
or artistic interest. Reference has also been made to Prevention of Damage
of Public Property Act, 1984 to state that any damage to public property is
national loss.
5. In response to the writ petition, a counter affidavit has been filed
on behalf of the Union of India by the Director, Ministry of Culture,
acknowledging that theft of Nobel Prize Medal from Viswabharti University
at Santiniketan was a matter of grave concern. It is further stated that
the CBI has been entrusted with the task of investigation, but no report
has been received. Similarly, incident of theft of golden coins from
Asiatic Society of Calcutta has been acknowledged as a fact for which
investigation was undertaken but closed. There is no report about the
recovery of the lost objects. Theft at Victoria Memorial is also
acknowledged and it is stated that the answering respondent was in
agreement with the petitioner that all possible steps should be taken by
the concerned organizations for the proper safety, security, preservation
and maintenance of artefacts under their custody. The Union of India was
taking every possible step for safety of artefacts in the custody of
Museums/Organizations controlled by them. The artefacts are scattered all
over the country in various museums controlled by the State Government and
also with Private Museums who have their own security systems. The
Government of India had entrusted the security to the CISF wherever it was
felt necessary. The security scenario is reviewed from time to time. It
was not possible to take responsibility of entire private and State
Government owned Museums and it was also not financially feasible to do so.
The Ministry of Culture, provides funds for museums to acquire equipments.

A meeting was convened on 8th April, 2004 by the Ministry of Culture on
issues relating to security. A Committee was set up under the chairmanship
of Director General, National Museum, for assessing the security needs of
various museums. The museums under the Ministry of Culture have been
advised to follow security norms suggested by the Committee. It may not be
financially viable to deploy a specialized force at all places where the
administration and custody of artefacts is either in the State Governments
or in private hands, but privately run security agencies could be hired for
the purpose. The Museums under the administrative control of Ministry of
Culture were keeping the inventory of art objects which were verified from
time to time. The state organizations were engaged in the programme of
digitization of artefacts. Initiatives were being taken in mission mode
for proper documentation of artefacts and monuments. The Antiquities & Art
Treasures Act, 1972 is in place to provide legal safeguards.
6. According to the guidelines annexed to the counter affidavit there
should be four layer coverage for external and internal security for
museums by guarding perimeter at entry points, galleries, surveillance
through manual and electronic gadgets and intangible intelligence. There
should be effective Access Control System (ACS); security should be with a
single agency; Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) should be rehearsed at
regular intervals; Galleries and Security Points should have Intercom
Networking; a Contingency Plan should be prepared to deal with fire/smoke;
robbery; power failure; spotting a suspicious person on CCTV monitor;
there should be regulation of movements of daily wagers/private workers for
repair and maintenance; there should be least number of entry/exit points;
preventive and deterrent measures should be increased; Door Framed Metal
Detector (DFMD) should be installed at the main entrance; Hand Heed Metal
Detector (HHMD) should be provided to security staff; CCTV cameras should
be installed at different locations; Walkie-Talkie and Intercom facility
should be provided at each security point; there should be Control Room to
coordinate functioning of museum and security staff; there should be Auto
Camera at the main entrance. Infra-red Alarm system or Punched Taped
Concertina or Electric Fencing should be installed at the perimeter of the
Museum building. The grills in the windows should be re-enforced. There
should be baggage X-Ray machine. There should be Electronic Locks
(Magnetic) for all doors of Galleries, Storages and Strong Rooms. Visitor
flow should be regulated by Biometric Photography system. Internal
intelligence staff should be employed. Every museum should carry out
security audit and impart orientation programme in strategic areas. Safe
keeping of keys of Museum should be ensured. A Curator should be deputed
for opening and closing of the museum. Gallery locks should be installed.
Regular drill should be carried out at least once in three months. There
should be Spatial Planning for Security which should be aesthetically
attractive with a consistent Signage System, service units should not
remain in gallery areas. There should be stand-by Automatic Power Back-Up
System. There should be bullet-proof glass for vulnerable art objects and
jewellery items should be stored in the Strong Room. Infra-red System or
painting gallery and Electronic Sensor Tags should be used for displayed
objects. 6mm to 8mm thickness of glass should be used for table showcases.
Police verification of workers should be carried out. Preventive and Fire
Fighting Measures should be adopted, smoke detectors should be installed.
Fire alarm system should be installed. Electronic choke should be used in
showcases. Tripping system should be strengthened for identification of
short circuits. Inspection of fire fighting in the electronic system
should be carried out. Minimum wooden items should be used in galleries,
fire resistant cloth, cupboard and locker should be used for partition.
The Standing Committee of the Museum should ensure that plug points are not
broken, conduited electrical wiring should be used and electrical fittings
are replaced. The museum should have technical staff for
Curatorial/Technical/Official Management. Record should be maintained
properly as per detailed guidelines laid down.
7. Noticing the stand in the counter affidavit, this Court on
12th August, 2005 directed the Ministry to file a better and detailed
affidavit about the implementation of the recommendations and the results
achieved. The Ministry was also directed to consider giving specialized
training in respect of security and also to consider the suggestion of
verification being done by outside agencies.
8. Accordingly, an additional affidavit was filed on 9th January, 2006
stating that the matter was reviewed by the Security Committee headed by
Director General, National Museum. The recommendation was forwarded to the
selected museums and also to the State Governments. The State Governments
were also requested to apply for financial assistance for equipment
relating to security systems for which a provision of Rs.2500 lakhs was
made. The Trusts, Private Bodies and Semi Govt. Bodies have their separate
security systems based on their needs and locations and perception of
theft. With regard to museums under the control of Ministry of Culture,
the status of security arrangements has been indicated. According to the
affidavit, recommendations of Security Committee have been implemented by
various museums and some recommendations were in the process of
implementation. It has been further stated that though the physical
verification is regularly done by museum staff, the idea of entrusting
physical verification to outside agency has been accepted in principle. As
regards specialized training, it is stated that security of National Museum
and Salar Jung Museum has been handed over to CISF, while security of IGRMS-
Bhopal, NMML, New Delhi, NGMA-Mumbai and New Delhi are being looked after
by their own security staff viz. Security Assistant, Gallery Attendant,
Chowkidars etc. It is not financially feasible to organize a special
force for the security of Museums spread all over the country, as the
various museums/sites are under the control of various agencies such as
Central Government, State Government, Semi Government Bodies, Trusts,
Private Bodies etc.
9. An affidavit has also been filed by Under Secretary, Government of
India, Ministry of Culture on 22nd October, 2007 in response to additional
affidavit of the petitioner annexing the status report on implementation of
recommendation of Security Committee at various organizations. It is stated
that physical verification has been done by outside agency in the case of
National Museum and such verification was in progress in certain other
museums. Museums under the control of Ministry of Culture were in the
process of computerizing the details of the artefacts. There are internal
physical verification systems under which artefacts are verified at regular
intervals in museums under the control of Ministry of Culture. Physical
verification is specialized job which should be done only by experts. A
Committee for physical verification was constituted under the Chairmanship
of Shri M.N. Deshpande, retired Director General, ASI which was
reconstituted by substituting Shri M. Varadarajan, former Secretary
(Culture) in
April, 1999. National Museum had more than 2 lakhs works of art, which
were physically verified by the Committee in a phased manner. Physical
verification of art objects in Indian Museum, Kolkata was being done by
outside experts. Verification of art objects in Victoria Memorial Hall was
being done by internal verification agency. Theft of Nobel Prize Medal
from Viswabharti Museum and Fifth Century Buddha Head from Indian Museum,
Kolkata were being investigated by CBI. The issues emerging in the
observations of audit were being addressed. The modalities for relocation
of all the administrative and other service units outside the museum
premises were being worked out. Affidavits have also been filed on behalf
of the Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad, Allahabad Museum, Archaeological
Survey of India, in response to directions of this Court.
10. On 10th January, 2013, the CBI was directed to apprise the Court
about the progress of investigation relating to missing of Budha Bust and
other cases in question. The Ministry of Culture was also directed to
respond to the affidavit of the Director, Indian Museum that due to
shortage of manpower and absence of scholars and experts in Indian Museum,
Kolkata, the work of verification which was started in the year 2005 could
not be completed even in seven years. The Ministry of Culture was directed
to look into the matter and provide resources so that substantial progress
could be achieved. The Ministry was also directed to look into the paucity
of sufficient place as the Museum was not in a position to display its
items and to maintain their museum. Directions were also issued for
completion of verification of the remaining items by the Victoria Memorial
Hall. The Government of India was directed to look into the requirement
for residential accommodation for the CISF staff near Victoria Memorial
Hall. The State Government was also directed to look into this aspect.
11. Thereafter affidavit dated 2nd April, 2013 has been filed on behalf
of the Minister stating that a meeting was held in the Ministry to discuss
the issue of physical verification of objects at Indian Museum, Kolkata and
Victoria Memorial Hall and CISF had agreed to provide necessary staff for
security subject to accommodation being provided. Affidavits dated 21st
September, 2013 have also been filed on behalf of the Victoria Memorial
Hall and the Indian Museum stating that verification of all items available
with it had almost been carried out and that the issue of security was also
being sorted out.
12. We have heard the petitioner in-person and learned counsel for the
respondents.
13. The petitioner in person submits that inspite of various directions
of this Court during pendency of this petition for the last more than ten
years, the situation is still not satisfactory. Neither the stolen
articles have been recovered nor adequate security measures fully adopted.
The updating of inventory and its cross checking needs to be ensured.
14. Learned Additional Solicitor General and the learned counsel for the
respondents fairly stated that the concern of the petitioner is genuine and
there is every need to review the security measures and to update the
inventory. They assured the Court that the concern will be addressed and
necessary steps in the matter will be taken.
15. It can hardly be gainsaid that preservation of rich heritage and
culture of the country is a constitutional mandate. In UNESCO Convention
on the means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and
Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property adopted in the General
Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organization, meeting in Paris from
12th October to 14th November 1970, at its sixteenth session, which has
been duly ratified by India, the spirit of the said mandate has been
reiterated. The International Council of Museums (ICOM) (working with the
support of UNESCO) has issued guidelines for disaster preparedness in
Museums which are well known to those concerned with the management of
Museums. The UNESCO in its quarterly journal “Museum” has suggested
measures for security of museum objects in the light of studies undertaken
by it. Performance audit of preservation and conservation of Monuments and
Antiquities is also conducted by the Comptroller and Auditor General of
India (CAG).
In its 18th report of 2013, various observations have been made by
the CAG. Learned counsel for the respondents accept the legal position and
also submit that the security and maintenance of historic artefacts
requires serious and continuous efforts by technically trained persons.
The challenges pointed out by the respondents, who are running and managing
museums, in their affidavits that there are space constraints, manpower
shortage and lack of other resources need to be looked into by the Ministry
of Culture and other concerned authorities and appropriate monitoring
mechanism needs to be put in place. Requisite funds have to be allocated
so as to ensure safe keeping of the valuable artefacts.
16. In view of assurance of learned Additional Solicitor General and
other counsel for the respondents, it may not be necessary to give any
specific direction at this stage. There is no reason to doubt the stand of
the Central Government and the other respondents that all necessary steps
will be taken and reviewed from time to time. This Court expects that the
Secretary, Ministry of Culture will review the matter and take such
necessary steps as may be identified within one month from the date of
receipt of a copy of this order. Thereafter, review meetings may be held
at least once in every six months to consider further course of action. If
any grievance survives, it will be open to any aggrieved person to take
legal remedies in accordance with law.
17. With the above observations, the writ petition is disposed of.
……………………………………………………J.
(T.S. THAKUR)

…………………………………………………..J.
(ADARSH KUMAR GOEL)

NEW DELHI
FEBRUARY 3, 2015

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