Declared unsafe ‘heritage building’ is home to 10 lakh historic files

Sunny Dua

Over 10 lakh files dating back from the era of erstwhile Maharajas of Jammu and Kashmir to present day Governments and comprising of both pre and post-1947 records of historical and administrative importance including orders, reports, debates and findings of various Commissions are waiting to be shifted to a modern day facility having all the qualities of being called a repository. Presently cellar of a crumbling heritage building located within the vicinity of Mubarak Mandi Heritage Complex (MMHC) is home to voluminous records that are being manned by a handful of staffers with meagre facilities at their disposal.
Records holding that dates back to 1724 AD, records of Dogra period, records of almost all departments, census reports of 1891-1971, land assessment reports, Praja Sabha debates, news paper files, civil lists, council proceedings, His Highness Commands and some very important documents like Agreement on lease of Gilgit and Instrument of Accession with Union of India are part of this colossal archive that’s housed in basement of this old and worn out building declared unsafe since 1984.
Owning to lack of space, the department of Archives, Archaeology & Museums has also closed its doors on future records, which is why most of the departments in Jammu and Kashmir are keeping their own records and not sending files to the archives. Last time the repository received files from different Government departments was in 1985 and then in 2000 after which the departments have stopped sending filed to archives. Usually the archives receive files after every twenty years but owning to lack of space they have now raised their hands.
Strangely the department that’s housed in an old worn out building has already lost its Record Room Number 14 to weather vagaries. This room was located in the same building but due to poor maintenance and upkeep it crumbled and entire record was squeezed to other rooms. The Room Number 14 doesn’t exist on ground and in its place is an illegal parking lot. Way to this building stands sealed but through that passage reptiles still sneak in only to send shivers down the spines of attendants.
Today when National Archives of India trained meagre staff is putting in its best efforts to keep the record safe in repository’s wooden racks they are looking forward towards a new building where temperature can be controlled, modern day techniques applied and proper stacking done to maintain this very fragile record which is getting damaged each time its shifting to a new location. Already the record pertaining to army has been shifted to Kala Kendra which is again a not-so-well maintained building and is prone to dampness besides located at a place where pollution and threat of flood looms large.
A big hall of repository in the cellar of this existing building has been vacated by the staff and records moved to other rooms just because during rains water seeps in. Shockingly the archives that’s located in an old building whose one portion stands razed to ground is also visited by snakes that not only scares the staff but puts their lives at risk as well. Despite dealing with weather, reptiles and meagre facilities the morale of staff is so high that they have managed to hang temporary wires and balanced exhaust fans on broken wooden tables and chairs to illuminate the record halls and keep them dry respectively.
Wooden beams of some portions of the repository have also been damaged but the efforts of staff in keeping the records safe is going on unabatedly. About two dozen odd staff members of this only archive in Jammu City struggle each day to keep the records safe. They believe that a new place where temperature can be maintained will not only help save records but also enable scholars to handle and study fragile documents in most appropriate manner. But if the record is to be kept here a full-fledged air conditioning plant is needed.
A proposal to shift the repository to old information building is also in offing but since this building too is old and abandoned shifting record there for another one time is not only irresponsive but also a colossal exercise that might damage several files. The building earlier department of information but the department moved out of it to a better place leaving it abandoned. Shifting sensitive records to this building will further damage them. The department of archives, archaeology and museums which is mandated to acquire reserve and disseminate the tangible cultural heritage of J&K state will have to think out of the box to preserve records of bygone era.
The state archives repository, Jammu believed to be one of the oldest repositories in the subcontinent was set up by Maharaja Ranbir Singh under the name Royal Records. All confidential and historical documents besides royal record were collected and preserved in the said office during the time of Maharaja Pratap Singh as well. When Maharaja Hari Singh took over the charge of the state in 1925 he ordered for overall reorganization of various departments of the state in 1928 AD.
He also changed the nomenclature of the file record office to Central record office. Historian Sardar K M Panikar, the then minister in waiting in the cabinet of Maharaja Hari Singh was appointed as the first director of Central record office. After 1947 in order to follow the pattern of Government of India the nomenclature of the department was changed in 1961 from record office to Archives. This came to be known as State Archives Department and a Director of the Record Department as Director Archives was appointed. Ever since then historical relics like objects of art, artefacts and archival documents that constitute as major components of Dogra heritage and even Mughal and British period are preserved here.
Presently over seventy per cent of records have been digitalised and efforts are on to digitise the remaining records. Another proposal to shift archives to a new building to a place in Rajinder Vihar is also gaining dust in Government files and nothing has been done on that as well. In all there are three archives repositories one each at Jammu, Srinagar and Leh housing about 20-lackh files of administrative and historical importance. Some very rare photographs of bygone era have also been preserved but due to lack of knowledge and proper space they too are likely to vanish into oblivion in few years.