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Old journals too yellow for Asiatic Society

New Delhi, Dec. 19: Calcutta’s Asiatic Society has been accused of giving away invaluable journals and manuscripts free or at throwaway prices because of lack of space and an aversion to ageing paper.

The documents — including the earliest editions of the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal — contained writings by linguist George Abraham Grierson and academic J.M. Foster, according to a society member.

The society’s general secretary, Ramakanta Chakrabarty, conceded that the journals had been sold as they were “yellow and unusable”.

The most important journals that were disposed of were issues of Asiatic Researches from 1788 till the last edition, sources claimed.

Some members got the copies free, the sources said. But Chakrabarty, the general secretary, said the “unusable” books were “sold” to the members. The Telegraph has seen a copy of a journal that the current holder said was given free (in picture).

“Only soiled or brittle books were sold. They were yellow and, if you touched them, they would disintegrate,” Chakrabarty said.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Om Prakash Kejriwal, a member of an expert committee set up to upgrade the Asiatic Society by the NDA regime.

“If the society has sold these rare books without setting up a committee to evaluate whether they can be disposed of or not, it is a crime against academia,” added Kejriwal, an information commissioner at the Central Information Commission.

Formed in 1784, the society is autonomous but convention expects it to inform the Union culture ministry before disposing of manuscripts. Ministry sources said nothing had been given in writing.

The journals were stored in a CMC building in New Market. A year ago, the society decided to vacate the space and remove the books.

“There were about 100 steel cupboards with journals. These were either distributed to members for free or sold. Issues of the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal from 1860 to 1920 have been handed out,” a society member said.

Chakrabarty said “there are copies in the library.”

Priced at Rs 5 to Rs 10 — their cost in the 19th century — the journals have not been valued at current market prices. “They are priceless now,” Kejriwal said.

The sources said some collectors picked up the documents for as little as Rs 3 to 5 but added that they were not sure of the exact sale price.

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