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Central Vista: Historians Write to National Archives Head, Seek Clarity on Redevelopment Process

"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."

New Delhi: Over a hundred historians from across India and abroad have written to Chandan Sinha, director general of the National Archive of India in Delhi, raising concerns about the planned redevelopment of the archives under the Central Vista project.

The Central government has said that while the main building of the National Archives is a heritage building and cannot be demolished, the annexe will be demolished and replaced with a new building.

In their letter, the scholars ask for transparency on how documents in the annexe will be preserved during this period. They also question the change in land status of the new building – from ‘public and semi-public land’ to ‘government land’, and whether this will change the nature of access that historians have to the archives.

Podcast:  The Whole Central Vista Revamp Process Has Been Undemocratic

The historians are also worried about how the proposed changes will affect historical research, since estimates say the archives’ redevelopment could take till 2024 or even 2026. The government has not released any information on whether this work will take place in phases and if scholars will be allowed to access the archives during this period. Since researchers need to apply for grants that have specific deadlines and ask for dates of research, they believe that the process of redevelopment must be made public.

The signatories have also asked Sinha about how these procedures were decided upon, and whether relevant stakeholders were taken into confidence.

Read the full text of the letter below.

§

To
Shri Chandan Sinha, IAS
The Director General, National Archives of India,
Janpath, New Delhi 110001

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.

Also read: How the Delhi High Court Dismissed Concerns Over the Central Vista Project

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 liberalization 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 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.

Also read: Ripping Apart the Central Vista Is Nothing Short of the Reconquest of Delhi

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.

Sincerely,

Bhavani Raman, Associate Professor of History, University of Toronto, Canada
Prachi Deshpande, Associate Professor of History, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta
Indrani Chatterjee, Professor of History, University of Texas at Austin, USA.
Prasannan Parthasarathi, Professor of History, Boston College, USA
Mrinalini Sinha, Alice Freeman Palmer Professor of History, Department of History, University of Michigan
Manu Goswami, Dept. of History, New York University
David Ludden, Professor of History, New York University
Partha Chatterjee, Professor Emeritus, Columbia University
Neeti Nair, Associate Professor of History, University of Virginia
Rohit De, Associate Professor of History, Yale University
Dr Jayeeta Sharma, Associate Professor, Department of Historical and Cultural Studies, University of Toronto
V Geetha, independent scholar, Chennai
Ajay Skaria, Professor, Department of History and Institute for Global Studies, University of Minnesota
Janaki Nair Retired professor, Centre for Historical Studies, JNU
Dilip Menon Mellon Chair in Indian Studies University of Witwatersrand
Mitra Sharafi, Professor, Law & Legal Studies (with History affiliation), University of Wisconsin- Madison
Chinnaiah Jangam, Associate Professor, Department of History, Carleton University, Canada
Sana Aiyar, Associate Professor of History, History Department, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Debjani Bhattacharyya, Associate Professor, History Drexel University
Richard M. Eaton, Professor of History, Department of History, University of Arizona
Gyan Prakash, Dayton-Stockton Professor of History, Princeton University
Dr Ramachandra Guha, Distinguished University Professor, Krea University
Rachel Sturman, Associate Professor, Department of History & Asian Studies Program, Bowdoin College
Faiz Ahmed, Associate Professor of History, Brown University
Sumit Guha, Frances Higginbotham Nalle Centennial Professor in History, University of Texas at Austin, Texas 78751, USA
Svati P. Shah, Associate Professor, WGSS, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Aparna Vaidik, Associate Professor, Department of History, Ashoka University
Sylvia Vatuk, Professor Emerita of Anthropology, University of Illinois at Chicago, USA
Deborah Sutton, Department of History, Lancaster University.
Eric Beverley, Associate Professor and Graduate Program Director, Department of History, State University of New York at Stony Brook
Pratiksha Baxi, Associate Professor, CSLG, JNU, Delhi
Durba Ghosh, Professor of History, Cornell University
Rajeev Kinra, Associate Professor of History and Comparative Literature, Northwestern University
Renisa Mawani, Professor of Sociology, The University of British Columbia
Tanuja Kothiyal, AUD
Mithi Mukherjee, Associate Professor, University of Colorado, Boulder
Dr Dhiraj Kumar Nite, School of Liberal Studies, Ambedkar university Delhi.
Samira Sheikh, Associate Professor, Department of History, Vanderbilt University
Professor Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi, CAS Department of History, AMU, Aligarh
Rochona Majumdar, Associate Professor, South Asian Languages and Civilizations, The University of Chicago
Dipti Khera, Associate Professor, Art History and Institute of Fine Arts–New York University
Aniket Alam, Associate Professor, Human Sciences Research Group, IIIT Hyderabad
Divya Cherian, Assistant Professor, Department of History, Princeton University
Gregory Goulding, Assistant Professor, Department of South Asia Studies, University of Pennsylvania
Barbara D. Metcalf, Professor of History Emerita, University of California, Davis
Uttara Shahani, Postdoctoral Researcher, Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford
Partha Pratim Shil, Junior Research Fellow, Trinity College, Cambridge.
Kavita Philip, Professor of History, University of California, Irvine
Rupa Viswanath, Professor, Center for Modern Indian Studies, Univ of Göttingen
Malavika Kasturi, Associate Professor of History, Department of History, University of Toronto, Canada
Pratik Chakrabarti, Chair in History of Science and Medicine, Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine (CHSTM), University of Manchester
Dipesh Chakrabarty, Professor, The University of Chicago
Prof. Ravi Ahuja, Centre for Modern Indian Studies, University of Goettingen
Sumathi Ramaswamy, James B. Duke Professor of History, and Chair, Department of History, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA
Ajit Menon, Professor, Madras Institute of Development Studies
Radhika Singha, Professor, Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
Crispin Bates, School of History, Classics & Archaeology, University of Edinburgh
Lakshmi Subramanian, Professor (Visiting) of History, BITS Pilani, Goa campus
Vasudha Dalmia, Professor Emerita, University of California, Berkeley
Nandini Sundar, Professor of Sociology, Delhi University
Dr Madhu Sarin, Psychoanalyst
Bhangya Bhukya, Department of History, University of Hyderabad, Hyderabad.
A.R. Venkatachalapathy, Professor, MIDS
B Eswara Rao, Department of History, University of Hyderabad
V J Varghese, University of Hyderabad
Bharati Jagannathan
Dr A Thiruneelakandan, Associate Professor, Department of History, The MDT Hindu College, Thirunelveli
Dhirendra Datt Dangwal, Professor, School of Liberal Studies, Ambedkar University Delhi
Srirupa Roy, Professor and Chair, Centre for Modern Indian Studies, University of Göttingen, Germany
Sabyasachi Dasgupta Department of History,Visva Bhharati,Santiniketan
Maroona Murmu, Professor, Department of History, Jadavpur University
Chaman Lal, Former Dean Languages, PU Chandigarh and Retired Professor JNU, New Delhi
Utsa Ray, Department of History, Jadavpur University
Sangeeta Dasgupta, Associate Professor, Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University
K.A.Manikumar, Ph.D., Professor of History (rtd.) Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, Tirunelveli
Oyndrila Sarkar, Assistant Professor of History, Presidency University, Kolkata
Prof. Dr. Margrit Pernau, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin, Germany
Moushumi Basu, Jawaharlal Nehru University
Dr Rana P Behal Associate Professor History, Deshbandhu College University of Delhi (Retired)
Najaf Haider, Professor, Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
Aditi Mishra, PhD Scholar, School of Social Work, Tata Institute of Social Sciences,Mumbai
Haimanti Roy, Associate Professor, History, University of Dayton
Prof. Dr Michael Mann, Department for South Asian Studies, Humboldt University, Berlin
Paula Chakravartty, Associate Professor, Gallatin and Media, Culture and Communication, New York University
Suanmuanlian Tonsing, PhD Candidate, Sociology, JNU
Abhijit Dandekar. Associate Professor, Department of AIHC and Archaeology, Deccan College Postgraduate and Research Institute, Pune
Shahana Bhattacharya, Associate Professor in History, Delhi University
Hayden Bellenoit, Associate Professor of History, US Naval Academy
Gayatri Menon, Associate Professor, Azim Premji University
Kaushik Ghosh, Associate Professor, Vassar College, USA
Suryasikha Pathak, Associate Professor, Centre for Tribal Studies, Assam University
Gaurav Mukherjee, Department of Legal Studies, Central European University
Dr Shruti Kapila, Faculty of History, University of Cambridge
Svati Joshi, retired teacher, Delhi university
Anuradha Chenoy retd. JNU
Vidushi, Doctoral Researcher, Dublin City University
Mridu Rai, Professor of History, Presidency University, Kolkata
Utkarsh Kumar, Assistant Professor Guest, Department of Sociology, University of
Delhi
Shivaji Mukherjee, Assistant Profesor, Department of Political Science, University of Toronto
Leo Coleman, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Hunter College & the Graduate Center, City University of New York
Bela Bhatia, independent researcher.
Tapati Guha-Thakurta, Honorary Professor, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta
Nisha Thapliyal, Senior Lecturer, University of Newcastle
Prof. Rohan D’Souza, Graduate School of Asian and African Area Studies, Kyoto University, Japan
Supriya Gandhi, Assistant Professor, Department of Religious Studies,Yale University
Indrani Mukherjee, SL/JNU.
Ravi Shukla (PhD – Science Policy) – Independent Researcher
Prof. G. Arunima, Director, Kerala Council for Historical Research, Trivandrum.
Mimi Choudhury, Independent publisher
Rakesh Pandey, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi
Dr. Anubhuti Maurya, Assistant Professor, Dept of History, Bharati College, Delhi University
Pallavi Raghavan, Ashoka University
Urmila De Executive Editor Journal of International Criminal Justice
Ayesha Kidwai, Professor, Centre for Linguistics, Jawaharlal Nehru University
Senthil Babu, Social Sciences, French Institute of Pondicherry, India
Sudeshna Guha, Associate Professor, Shiv Nadar University, India
Kama Maclean, Professor of History, South Asia Institute, University of Heidelberg
Gitanjali Surendran, Professor, Jindal Global Law School
Samarpita Mitra, Department of History, Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India
N.J. Dharan, Doctoral Student, History and Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania (USA)
Tilottama Mukherjee, Associate Professor, Department of History, Jadavpur University
Bishnupriya Gupta, Professor, Department of Economics, University of Warwick, UK
Ryosuke Furui, Professor, Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia, The University of Tokyo Nupur Dasgupta, Professor, Department of History, Jadavpur University
Rohini Sahni (retired) professor and head the department of economics sp pune university
Dr Shekhar Krishnan, Heritage Conservation Cell, Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai
Rajarshi Ghose, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta
Nariaki Nakazato, Professor Emeritus, University of Tokyo
y subbarayalu, Affiliated Researcher, French Institute of Pondicherry, Puducherry
Dr. Ananya Vajpeyi, Fellow, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi.
Prof Vinita Damodaran, University of Sussex
Supriya Chaudhuri Professor Emerita Jadavpur University
Takako Inoue, Professor, Faculty of International Relations, Daito Bunka University, Japan
Dr Swapna Liddle, Independent Scholar, Historian
Zoya Hasan, Professor Emerita, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
Dr. Sudeshna Banerjee, Department of History, Jadavpur University
S.Chandrashekar.No.814th main Vidyagiri Layout.Bengaluru.73.
Chandan Gowda, Professor, ISEC, Bengaluru
Shubhra Gururani, Anthropology, York University, Canada
Joya Chatterjee, Professor, Cambridge University
Tanika Sarkar, Retd. Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
Sumit Sarkar, Retd. Professor, Delhi University, Delhi
Thomas Metcalf, Retd. Professor, University of California, Berkeley
Dr. M. Solomon Bernard Shaw, Associate Professor (Retd.), Arul Anandan College, Karumathur, Madurai District
Dr.S. Samuel Asir Raj, Professor, Department of Sociology, Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, Tirunelveli