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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

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 THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

                         CIVIL ORIGINAL JURISDICTION

                      WRIT PETITION (C) NO.252 OF 2004



UNION OF INDIA AND ORS.                                     ...RESPONDENTS


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
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.

                                   (T.S. THAKUR)

                                    (ADARSH KUMAR GOEL)

FEBRUARY 3, 2015

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