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Monday, 26 March 2012

AP: State’s museums may be history soon

by Sudipta Sengupta & Nikhila Henry,TNN | Mar 26, 2012, 01.45AM IST

HYDERABAD: Apart from playing custodian to the 550 protected monuments of Andhra Pradesh, the state archaeology department, when formed, was entrusted with yet another job -- that of conserving the state's 25 magnificent museums. Over time, this role has been given a silent burial by the department. Little wonder that the official website of the department has only a fleeting mention of the museums. Barring the AP State Museum in Public Gardens that finds its fair share of display on the site, the remaining 24 are lost in the clutter of the few lines jotted under the head 'district museums'.

That AP has the second highest collection of coins in the world, only next to the British Museum, dating between 2nd century BC and 20th century AD; is sitting on one of the richest piles of ancient manuscripts or flaunts an expansive collection of miniature paintings, statues, arms and ammunition are facts that are neither highlighted nor ever promoted by the department. Preservation, research or even verification of the collection at museums are a rarity, as is the regular appointment of much-needed senior officials. In fact, at least 13 of these museums are currently run by clerks as against qualified staffers from the archaeology department.

The Nizamabad district museum, for instance, which has artifacts spanning three periods, the Chalukyas, Rashtrakutas and Kakatiyas (between 7 AD and 14 AD), is run by a Group 'D' employee (peon). This, coupled with the fact that the structure has not been renovated in years, has led to a steep drop in footfall of visitors. "We have been asking the department to rope in schools to send students to the museums but so far the officials have not showed any interest in the proposal," said an archaeologist from the district stressing how such measures can uplift the morale of the dying sites.

Similar is the case with the Andhra Sahitya Parishat (Kakinada), the Rallabandi Subbarao Government Museum (Rajahmundry), the Nellore District Archaeological Museum and the Kolanpak Museum (Nalgonda). If the one in Nalgonda has haphazardly stacked statues with little information about their historical significance, those in Kakinada and Rajahmundry have nothing more than heaps of ancient palm leaf manuscripts (dating back to the 400 BC) and old reference books buried under layers of dust. That restoration activities by official `caretakers' are seldom taken up here is not difficult to decipher for those setting foot in these once iconic buildings.

"The state government had released Rs 2 crore towards construction of a new building for Kakinada museum a year ago. In spite of several requests made to the department of archaeology, these funds have not been used so far. The museum still functions from a dilapidated building donated to the department decades ago," said L Sheshakumari, convener of Intach for East Godavari district.

Excavated zones in the state too are in an appalling state. The Phanigiri museum in Nalgonda is awaiting a sanction to open its door for visitors. The Buddhist site recently discovered at Annavaram is crying for attention as its valuable findings remain scattered across places. Also in cold storage are four major projects sanctioned about five years ago. Though close to Rs 7 crore had been released for the `reorganisation' of the Kurnool museum, archaeological museum (Abids), state museum (Public Gardens) and Khazana building (Golconda fort), little has still been done to put the money in use.

The physical structures apart, even the directory of museums, its fourth edition release slated this April contains bare details. "I had written to the department and heads of museums in AP to provide information about their museums. They showed no interest and hence I gathered information from the state's heritage activists," said Usha Agarwal, a Lucknow-based heritage conservationist who compiled the directory.

The consistent neglect has not just kept visitors away __ the Nellore museum, sources claim, was even closed down temporarily for the same __ but has even paved the way for thefts and other unscrupulous businesses. "At the state museum in the city, instances of artifacts going missing has become a routine," said a Hyderabad-based heritage expert.

Little perturbed by such concerns, P Chenna Reddy, director of the archaeology department, insists that the state's museums are in best of health. "We are taking good care of our museums. The four (abovementioned) projects are already on track and will be completed in the next three months," he said.

(This is the third in a series of reports that would explore all that the state archaeology department has ignored)

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