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So that was the only thing left for them to do! Have you read the news in The Telegraph, published on June 24, 2018? The Government of Assam is planning to close down the Directorate of Historical and Antiquarian Studies and State Archives as recommended by the 7th Pay and Productivity Commission. How will you respond to this? How can they do that? This news has made me numb and dumb!

After reading the news, the first thing I wanted to know is — who are the members of the 7th Pay and Productivity Commission? I looked for it and found that there was only one sensible person who is already dead for more than a year. He was late Professor Dilip Kumar Barua. I am sure he would not have agreed to this. The rest of the members are all high profile IAS officers. Now how do you react to it? Do you know what are they recommending? They are recommending that all records of Assam’s past should either be burnt or thrown to the river Brahmaputra! Do you call such people literate or educated? But mind you they are at the helm of the affairs. They are taking decisions affecting our life. Anybody with some modicum of common sense will call it an unthinkable and most stupid decision. Yet they recommended it.

The Telegraph news reported: “Set up in 1929, under the initiative of historians like Edward Said Gait, Hemchandra Goswami, K L Barua and S K Bhuyan, the institute was built to preserve rare manuscripts, copper plates, coins, and maps international and state borders and other historical items for study and researchers. At present it houses 2,800 manuscripts, 2,148 books and other artefacts. Some documents are more than 400 years old.” Likewise the State Archive was set up to preserve records of state administration including heads of departments, districts, divisions and other public records.

Why anyone doing any serious research on anything related to Assam goes to British Library and Museum? Because it housed “150-200 million items, 13,950,000 books, 824,101 serial titles, 3,51,116 manuscripts (single and volumes) 8,266,276 philatelic items, 4,347,505 cartographic items,1,607,885 music scores and 6,000,000 sound recordings as per its website.

It also said: “The British Library is a major research library, with items in many languages and in many formats, both print and digital: books, manuscripts, journals, newspapers, magazines, sound and music recordings, videos, play-scripts, patents, databases, maps, stamps, prints, drawings. The Library’s collections include around 14 million books along with substantial holdings of manuscripts and historical items dating back as far as 2000 BC. In addition to receiving a copy of every publication produced in the UK and Ireland (approximately 8,000 per day), the Library has a programme for content acquisitions. The Library adds some three million items every year occupying 9.6 kilometres (6.0 mi) of new shelf space. There is space in the library for over 1,200 readers.”

File photo of the British Library

The yearly budget for The British Library is £142 million. And what does the website of Library Congress, the state library of the USA say? “The Library of Congress claims to be the largest library in the world. Its “collections are universal, not limited by subject, format, or national boundary, and include research materials from all parts of the world and in more than 450 languages.” And it stores “More than 38 million books and other printed materials, 3.6 million recordings, 14 million photographs, 5.5 million maps, 8.1 million pieces of sheet music and 70 million manuscripts, 5,711 incunabula, and 1,22,810,430 items in the non-classified (special) collections: more than 167,000,000 total items.”

The yearly budget for The Library Congress is $598,402,000 and they have staff strength of 3,224 persons. All these figures have been reproduced here from the official websites of The British Library and The Library Congress. Anybody with little doubt can easily browse through the websites and verify the data quoted above. These are all in public domain.

Not to speak of other Western and European nations why these two countries are indulging in such mindless activities by preserving books and other items? Why is this wasteful expenditure? Yes, the honourable members of the 7th Pay and Productivity Commission must be wondering about it! How could they be so ignorant? How can you think of a society without a sense of the past? What does development mean? What is the meaning of human development? And what is the most important thing in the 21st century? Don’t we call this century the century of knowledge? Aren’t we living in a time where knowledge is the main capital?  Why are the British and Americans investing so much on libraries and achieves? Because they value history, knowledge and information. When  the British came to India they studied  our past and present  so closely because they wanted to know us so that they could control. That was one purpose. But, you need to know your past to grasp your present better and for building a safer future without which you will end up in blind alleys. Furthermore to develop a sense of history is also a greatest refinement of a civilised life.

Is the Government of Assam really closing down these two institutions? No, they are not doing that. This recommendation of the 7th Pay and Productivity Commission was summarily rejected. This I came to know this morning when I called Shri Jishnu Barua, IAS and Principal Secretary, Government of Assam who once took a great deal of interest to modernise the state archive and who himself is a  serious student of  history. What a great relief!

Paresh Malakar is a commentator based in Guwahati. He can be reached at: malakarparesh@gmail.com

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Paresh Malakar

Paresh Malakar is a commentator based in Guwahati. He can be reached at: malakarparesh@gmail.com

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