National Archives struggles with resource and budget shortages, jeopardizing preservation of priceless documents 

The lack of human resources and budget puts collection of national importance at risk

NL Today

  • Read Time 3 min.

Kathmandu: Years after its establishment, the National Archives is grappling with a shortage of human resources and budget, hindering its ability to systematically and safely preserve valuable manuscripts and documents of national importance. 

Currently, the Archives is operating with only 20 staff out of the authorized 30 positions. According to Saubhagya Pradhananga, the Archives Director General, this shortage is impeding the government’s goals regarding document preservation.

Pradhananga expressed concern over the budget allocation for the upcoming fiscal year 2023/24 which has neglected the management of nationally significant documents. The allocated budget has decreased compared to the current fiscal year, jeopardizing the collection and preservation of audio and visual materials. 

The lack of workforce and budgetary resources poses a significant challenge to the preservation of these important documents.

Recognizing the urgency of the situation, the Archives has raised the issue of the resource and budget shortage in the Delegated Management and Government Assurance Committee under the National Assembly. 

In response, the committee has directed relevant government bodies to take appropriate action to ensure the preservation of these documents. The committee has assured stakeholders that a meeting will be convened to address this matter.

As a consequence of the resource and budgetary limitations, a study of hundreds of manuscripts has yet to be conducted. The history of the Archives dates back to 1812 BS when Girvanayuddha Bikram Shah ordered the systematic recording of government documents at the Basantapur Palace. 

Over time, the Archives has stored an extensive collection of rare manuscripts and important documents that date back to the fifth century, encompassing various languages, Nepali papers, and manuscripts such as ‘Tadpatra’, ‘Bhojpatra’, and ‘Nilpatra’.

Among the stored manuscripts are significant works like ‘Das Bhumishwor’ from the fifth century, ‘Skandapuran’ written in the Uttarlichhavi script in 810, and ‘Sardharmapundarik Sutra’ from the eighth century, written on ‘Tadpatra’. Notably, the ‘Nishwasatatwo Sanhita’, a ninth-century scripture related to Shaiwatantra, is enlisted on the Memory of The World Register under UNESCO. The Archives also houses numerous government documents, including ‘Lal Mohar’, ‘Syaha Mohar’, ‘Sandhipatras’, ‘Sawals’, ‘Chitthipatras’, ‘Ek-chappers’, ‘Kukkas’, and ‘Khadganisan’, along with a collection of copper plates, civil servant records, government publications, newspapers, and rubbings of stone inscriptions.

According to Pradhananga, the Archives currently preserves the world’s rarest and most invaluable scriptures and documents. It safeguards original copies of around 32,000 manuscripts, approximately 20,000 documents, 10,000 Tibetan scriptures, and microfilm copies of 200,000 scriptures and other documents. Furthermore, it holds records related to Kumari Chowk land, original copies of Prithivi Narayan Shah’s Divyopadesh (a collection of teachings), and old ‘Tamasuk’ (land transaction deeds).

However, despite the Archives’ efforts to collect all historically, culturally, religiously, and archaeologically significant documents, government documents have not been consistently submitted, leading to a scattered state of these records. Also, the increasing number of researchers and students visiting the Archives underscores the need for copies of stored documents.

The Archives encourages the submission of documents of national importance, and provisions exist for such submissions. However, due to a lack of awareness or negligence on the part of relevant authorities, only a few documents have been handed over to the Archives. 

Moreover, the few submitted documents are often in a dilapidated and unmanaged condition, further complicating the preservation efforts. To address these challenges, the Archives has organized various seminars and training sessions in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture, Tourism, and Civil Aviation, as well as other departments and offices. 

These initiatives aim to promote the study and proper management of documents intended for archival preservation. Efforts have also been made to incentivize individuals to donate documents of national importance from their private collections, recognizing the significance of history, religion, culture, literature, and economy. The Archives aspires to become an international archive center by collecting and safeguarding documents of national and international importance, both domestically and abroad. 

To achieve this goal, the Archives is working on retrieving documents of national importance currently held in archives and museums in various countries. While efforts are being made to bring back these documents, alternative solutions such as obtaining copies are being explored. 

The National Archives has witnessed an increasing number of researchers and students from countries like Germany, the United States, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, China, India, and Bangladesh, who express interest in accessing and studying the stored documents. 

To attract and accommodate these researchers, there is a pressing need to enhance the Archives’ services and transform it into a research center. Recognizing the significance of digitization, the Archives has developed a plan to digitize its collections and provide audio and visual services to facilitate wider access and preservation of the documents.

Purna Prasad Mishara/RSS