Law on protection of Indian manuscripts

TOPICS COVERED: Structure, organization and functioning of the Executive and the Judiciary—Ministries and Departments of the Government; pressure groups and formal/informal associations and their role in the Polity.

Context:

The government is planning to introduce the National Manuscripts Bill, 2023

Key details:

What is a manuscript?

  • A manuscript is a handwritten composition on paper, bark, cloth, metal, palm leaf or any other material dating back at least seventy-five years that has significant scientific, historical or aesthetic value.
  • Lithographs and printed volumes are not manuscripts.
  • Manuscripts are distinct from historical records such as epigraphs on rocks, firmans, revenue records which provide direct information on events or processes in history.
  • Manuscripts have knowledge content.
  • While 75% of the existing Indian manuscripts are in Sanskrit, 25% are in regional languages

Need for the law:

  • The Bakhshali manuscript, an ancient Indian mathematical text written on birch bark, is considered to be the earliest recorded example of the use of zero.
  • The seminal text, dating back roughly to the third or fourth century AD, is in one of the Bodleian Libraries of the University of Oxford
  • Many other Indian manuscripts lie in libraries across the globe or are with private collectors, both in India and abroad.

Aim of the law:

The primary aim of the Bill is to:

  • document and catalogue Indian heritage texts wherever they may be and in India or abroad,
  • maintain accurate and up-to-date information about them, and
  • detail the conditions under which they may be consulted.

National Manuscripts Authority:

  • The Bill envisages setting up a 10-member National Manuscripts Authority (NMA).
  • While the Culture Minister will be the Chairperson of this body, the members will include:
  • the Secretaries of Culture, Finance and Education,
  • the Vice-Chancellor of Central Sanskrit University,
  • special invitees representing the States, and
  • private agencies
  • The National Manuscripts Authority will be the apex policy-making body with regard to digitisation, conservation, preservation, editing, and publication work of manuscripts.
  • The NMA will have the powers of a civil court to regulate the allocation of access to manuscripts and will also have an investigation wing for the purpose of conducting an inquiry into thefts and desecration of texts.
  • It will also ensure that the manuscripts are not lost by damage or theft.
  • It can collaborate with universities and other educational institutions or agencies to provide fellowships and scholarships for study of manuscripts.
  • The NMA will also prepare a dedicated digital portal for indexing, cataloguing, uploading, and downloading copies of manuscripts.
  • The special body will be vested with the right to take over a manuscript from a private owner based on the uniqueness and the importance of the content.

SOURCE: THE HINDU, THE ECONOMIC TIMES, PIB

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