The Visva-Bharati University and the National Library are set for a complete overhaul with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh doling out Rs 100 crore and Rs 20 crore, respectively, to these two institutions which have been in dire straits because of apathy, negligence and wastage of funds over the years.
While the stress in Visva-Bharati will be more on restoration of art works and preserving Tagore’s traditions, the National Library will be fully computerized and its 25-lakh treasure trove of books, documents and newspapers brought under the click of a mouse.
This is the first time that such a huge step is being taken at the Union government level, driven by Union culture secretary Jahar Sarkar, to save these two institutions from negligence. Sarkar has already held meetings with the Visva-Bharati and National Library authorities and money is being released in parts.
Visva-Bharati sources, however, said that the money may not be released to the university directly and that the government would carry out the work through its agencies. “This is good and we welcome it because Visva-Bharati does not have the expertise to launch and carry out such delicate restoration work. Work on Udayan, where Tagore lived, has already begun and the restoration work on paintings and frescos by masters like Nandalal Bose and Ramkinkar Beij will start soon,” they said. They also said that some buildings and works of art were “beyond restoration” and a “loss to the nation.”
The sources made it clear that former administrations of the university had dragged their feet on these sort of initiatives and had Sarkar not stepped in at the right time, matters would have gone out of hand. Sculptures by legends like Ramkinkar were kept out in the open without any protection and over the years, some had been ruined beyond recognition.
The vice-chancellor, Dr Rajat Kanta Roy, said that philology had always been Visva-Bharati’s strong point but it was sad that foreigners had ceased to come as students to learn languages over the years as they used to earlier. “We are creating a special cell where the comparative languages will be taught in a big way. Uniting languages is the basic aim of philology. Once the other works like restoration and preservations take off and Visva-Bharati is set to return to its old glory, then our philology section shall be the pride of the nation,” he said.
Dr K.K. Banerjee, director of the National Library, once the residence of the English Lieutenant Governor after the capital shifted to Delhi, said that the amount released by the Centre and Sarkar’s initiative would go a long way to help overcome the various crises that book-lovers were facing. “We intend to bring our collection of 25 lakh books under a computer click. Once that happens, it will revolutionise the world of knowledge in the country,” he said.
Dr Banerjee said that around three lakh books were simply “lying around” with no cataloguing having been done. “We have books and documents, not to forget newspapers, dating back to 250 years and more. Godowns were stacked with books with readers having no access to them and termites eating into them. “Öur first priority is cataloguing. An inventory is a must,”the director added.
Dr Banerjee said that he had plans to take the National Library to other metros of the country through city hubs, the first of which had been set up in Kolkata but is languishing. “Once computers take over, this should not be difficult and somebody sitting in Delhi can visit our hubs and access books from there, if not from home directly. Obviously, there will be a membership fee but given the treasure that we have, that is a pittance,” he said. In another two years, the National Library project would go online.