Total Pageviews

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Heritage lovers blame weak security for museum theft

Paul FernandesPaul Fernandes, TNN | Jan 29, 2012, 06.39AM IST

PANAJI: The daring robbery at the Christian art museum in Old Goa and the loss of priceless antiques has triggered shock among heritage lovers, who blamed it on the "weak security system".

Unidentified persons strangled a 55-year-old lone guard at the museum in St Monica convent at around 6.30pm on Wednesday and committed the theft after grabbing the keys from him, police sources said. Five gold antiques from the museum, once projected by its management as a unique showcase of Indo-Portuguese art, were taken away from a monument of the church complex at the world heritage site.

Heritage lovers and conservationists have raised several queries about the management of the museum, alleging that the lack of strict security may have exposed the artefacts to pilferage.

"The issues of safety and security are of prime importance in the management of a museum as they are prime targets for the heists," says Savia Viegas, a Fullbright scholar who was attached to Smithsonian museum, USA, for almost a year.

The nuns from St Monica convent called the police after they heard the guard's cries as he was apparently being strangled. "Actually, there should have been a device with the watchman, which should have triggered a public scare or woken the whole neighbourhood, especially when museums are located in isolated places like this," Viegas said.

The daring robbery also raises questions about providing security to security personnel. "The best option was to install a CCTV with a recording facility to keep track of persons entering the premises round-the-clock," Damodar Mauzo, a member of the curatorial committee of a new museum at the old Secretariat, said.

Raising another aspect, Victor Hugo Gomes, a former founder curator of the Christian art museum, said it is risky to entrust the keys to security guards in the present set-up. "Should our priceless heritage be left to the mercy of security guards with unknown credentials?" he asked.

Gomes alleged that the thieves knew how the museum's locking systems operated. "Retaining the security personnel for more than seven years, as in the present case, is not a done thing," he said. Agreed Perry Goes, a Bangalore-based Goan collector of vintage items, "The fact that it didn't take much for the thieves to walk away with the antiques shows that the security was weak."

However, a source attached to the museum management explained that the keys were given to the security guard due to frequent short circuits at the museum. "The keys were given in the eventuality of some electrical problem occurring," the source said.

The management has installed CCTVs in the museum, but admitted that it has no recording facility. Regarding the annual allocation of 3 lakh towards the maintenance of security, the source added, "It is utilized to defray the expenditure of the security guard's monthly wages."

The prestigious project aimed at conserving rich Indo-Portuguese art was initiated by the Goa archdiocese around 1988. Supported by Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon, Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, (INTACH), New Delhi, and others in terms of funds, technical guidance and other contributions, the effort finally culminated in setting up of the museum at Rachol in 1994. It was shifted to St Monica convent, Old Goa, a decade ago.

The priceless antiques sourced from churches from various parts of Goa and also loaned from some families' private collections were largely liturgical objects and a collection of paintings and other artefacts.

Questions are being raised by some about the role of a management committee, which comprises prominent citizens, overseeing the affairs of the museum. But a couple of members when contacted said they are only peripherally connected to its running. "The day-to-day administration is looked after by the management through a "12-member trust," a member said. The managing committee is likely to meet early next week to take stock of the situation. "This incident is an eye-opener for all of us," a member said.

Terming the antiques in the museum as world heritage, Viegas said the management should be wary about international buyers of antiques. "There is huge movement of antiques from the third world to the western world," she said.

Mauzo said the Old Goa heist throws up lessons for museum managers. Agreed Prajal Sakhardande, executive member of the Goa Heritage Action Group, "Now museums have become targets of antique robbers as the government failed to nab the culprits who stole antiques and idols from our churches and temples," he said.

The government should launch a massive search for the culprits, said heritage lovers. Gomes added, "The government should not entrust the solving of Goa's biggest heritage robbery to just one police inspector."

No comments:

Post a Comment