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Prasoon S Majumdar
Editor, Economic Affairs - The Sunday Indian
Dean Academics (All India), The Indian Institute of Planning and Management

The Museum of Museums

It is just about heritage, but it is lot about economics as well

In most of my leisure trips abroad, the one thing that necessarily forms the part of my itinerary is a visit to art galleries and museums of that country. Not only the artifacts exhibited there speak volumes about the period that they belonged to, but even the state-of-art facility of these museums and galleries also show case, how possessive these nations are with respect to their own heritage. And when I compare such harmonic matrimony of past and present with that of Indian museums and art galleries, it just portrays the reverse. The presence of museums in India can be traced back to early 17th century and today India boasts of having more than 700 small and large museums combined. However, this boastfulness is just confined to quantity and not quality.

In its recent study, UNESCO has found around eight national museums of the country in a bad condition and said that it does not meet global standards. On similar lines, a survey conducted by couple of universities (JNU, SPA and ilk) across India, found that our museums lack even the basic infrastructural requirements, leave aside being at par with international standards. The standard and maintenance of most of our museums are so bad that if one browses through the never ending list of Indian museums, it wouldn’t be really tough to pin-point few good ones, as most of the museums are either closed permanently or is under-going renovation since ages. Not to forget that most of the museums also lack proper signage and description of the artifacts.

Not only the museums infrastructure is calling for an urgent repair but even the surroundings require an urgent attention. More than half of our museums have turned into store houses and dump yards from both – inside and outside. Dirt and garbage finds a safe and permanent home outside these museums. To top it up, the security and security systems of these museums are in a complete dilapidated condition. Regular thefts are a normal affair and rampant damage never comes as a surprise to anyone. Even the reluctance of government towards improving museums infrastructure is in similar dire state. A case in point is that a three years old, and Rs 7 crore worth museum project in Andhra Pradesh is still to see its dawn.

These handicaps not only bring international criticism but also deprive India of the economies that it could have brought. As I stated earlier, museums and galleries abroad are not only symbolic to their national heritage (being properly maintained since ages) but are a major tourist attraction. The Louvre established in 1793 experiences more than 5 million footfalls every year. Likewise, in UK major museums and galleries chips in more than 1.5 million pounds annually and their turnover is nothing less than 900 million pounds.

With advent of cultural tourism, museums have become an integral part of the tourism economy. And it is needless to state the kind of economies that tourism can generate for a country like India, where most of the tourism stakeholders are largely unorganised. And therefore it is all the more important for the Ministry of Culture and Tourism to define a set of globally accepted standards and norms for themselves and dress up the museum, may be with PPP. At the same time, the outer infrastructure of museums need to be refurbished to an extent that it replicates modern the architectural creativity conducive to the local culture. After all, museums and galleries help in transcending diversity and which is so symbolic to the idea called India!


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