Calcutta High Court on Monday came down heavily on the Calcutta chapter of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) for its failure to plug the leaks on the Victoria Memorial Hall roof — in 22 long years.
What the court did not mention was that the historic monument had taken 21 years to build.
The division bench, comprising Justice A. Ganguly and Justice S.P. Talukdar, refused to accept the affidavit of the ASI in this regard and asked its superintendent archaeologist Bimal Bandyopadhyay to be present on August 5, when the matter next comes up for hearing.
The ASI had submitted an affidavit before the court, admitting that rainwater still leaked from the roof of the Durbar Hall and Queen’s Hall of the Memorial. The report stated that the ASI had chalked out a plan to start roof-repair work from October this year. The affidavit also mentioned that prior to 1984, the public works department (PWD) was engaged for repairs on the roof of the Victoria Memorial Hall. “Since 1991, the ASI has been assigned the job,” the report said.
Environment activist and petitioner Subhas Dutta told the court that the Victoria Memorial authorities had handed over Rs 3.11 crore to the ASI since 1991. But the ASI has managed to spend only Rs 1.88 crore.
“An inquiry should be conducted to ascertain why the ASI has failed to repair the roof and stop rainwater from seeping into the hall,” Dutta demanded.
The petitioner said the ASI had also failed to inform the court about the progress of the repair work on the monument. “The court should take a stern view with regard to the repair of the roof, as many important documents and historic photographs have already been damaged due to water seepage into the Durbar Hall,” claimed Dutta.
According to the petitioner, he had information that a nexus between a section of employees of the ASI and Victoria Memorial Hall was slowing down the repair work on the monument. Dutta urged the court to step in and set up a fact-finding committee in this regard.
The ASI had earlier blamed the delay on Delhi, alleging that the funds for the repairs were not being disbursed on time.
The petition filed by Dutta in Calcutta High Court alleges that air pollution in the surrounding area was causing damage to the outer surface of the Memorial. He also pointed out that in 1991, the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) had reported that the historic monument was in peril due to pollution.
Memorial curator C.R. Panda, in an affidavit before the court, had confirmed that pollution was taking its toll on “the beauty and outer surface” of the monument. Panda had also told the court that rainwater leaks from the roof had damaged some documents and paintings.
The court, on Monday, asked Panda to appear before it and state what he had done with regard to issuing photo-identity cards to his employees. The court had earlier directed the curator to check trespassers.