Page last updated at 18:21 GMT, Tuesday, 5 August 2008 19:21 UK

Rare India documents 'go missing'

By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Calcutta

Rabindranath Tagore
Tagore composed the Indian and Bangladeshi national anthems

India's national audit agency says many rare manuscripts and documents have gone missing from the National Library in the eastern city of Calcutta.

A senior official with the Comptroller and Auditor General's (CAG) office said that the early works of renowned writer Rabindranath Tagore were missing.

So too were letters and paperwork of independence heroes Subhas Chandra Bose and Sarojini Naidu.

The library has denied the charges and said the allegations are untrue.

'Dereliction of duty'

A recent inquiry was carried out by an 11-member team set up by the CAG to probe irregularities in the National Library after complaints of large-scale thefts.

The CAG has now written to the Indian Culture Ministry accusing National Library Director R Ramachandran of "dereliction of duty".

National Library in Calcutta
The libary stores some of India's most precious artefacts

"We have found readers complaining that they cannot get most of the rare books and manuscripts they like to read for research purposes," a CAG official - who did not wish to be named - told the BBC.

"Almost 40% of the rare books and manuscripts are not available. Even inventories have been lost."

Mr Ramachandran has strenuously denied the allegations.

"We have an inventory for rare books and it is surely not true that Tagore's early works have gone missing," he said.

"When the CAG team came for an inquiry, we gave them all co-operation but some of our staff were on leave and we could not provide all documents. We can provide them now."

He said the National Library had set up a five-member committee to examine the CAG allegations.

"Much of what they have said is not true and we will prove it," he said.

Neither the Calcutta police nor the central investigating authorities have taken up the case so far.

But police are known to be suspicious that many rare artefacts, paintings, coins and manuscripts have gone missing from the Indian Musuem, the Asiatic Society library and the Victoria Memorial over the last few months.

The federal agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), is investigating these thefts into heritage institutions which are famous for their collections.

The worst such case was in 2004, when Rabindranath Tagore's original Nobel medallion of 1913 was stolen from a museum in West Bengal's western town of Shanti Niketan.

Tagore, often referred to as Bengal's Shakespeare, is the first and only Indian to win the literature prize.

He wrote poems and short stories and composed both the Indian and Bangladeshi national anthems. He died in 1941.

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22 Dec 99 |  South Asia

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