Category Archives: Reportage

A glimpse of the day-to-day reporting

STATE Govt claims panchayats planted 1.7 cr trees in Pune Division, no evidence for 87% per cent plantation

Field visits conducted by The Indian Express in 20 villages in Sangli, Satara and Kolhapur Districts, showed that that most Gram Panchayats had “distributed” the saplings they were asked to plant. Many couldn’t show the locations of planted saplings.

A resident of Bramhanal village shows a wilted sapling that he said died as the village was submerged in water for days.

ATIKH RASHID

While the state government is claiming to have not only achieved but exceeded the target of planting 33 crore trees in the state as part of the three-month-long ‘Green Maharashtra’ drive — which ended on September 30 —a substantial part of the evidence to support this claim is missing from the state Forest department’s portal. Information shows that gram panchayats — which as per government claims planted 8.64 crore saplings — have not uploaded geographical tags and pictures to support the plantation numbers. In Pune Division alone, Gram Panchayats have not uploaded geo-tags and photographs for as much as 87 per cent of purported tree plantations.

The state forest department had created a special portal to monitor the tree plantation across the state by over 59 agencies. It was made mandatory for every agency to geographically tag the plantation sites and take pictures of the site and the saplings before and during the plantation, to ensure that the plantation has indeed been carried out.

According to the government website, 34.54 crore trees have been so far planted in the state with geographic tagging and the target has been surpassed with a 104.68 per cent plantation.

The Indian Express examined the tree plantation data uploaded on the Forest department’s portal for five districts of Pune division and found that while it has been claimed that gram panchayats in five districts — Pune, Sangli, Satara, Kolhapur and Solapur — have planted a total of 1.7 crore saplings, the panchayats did not provide any evidence for the plantation of as many as 1.49 crore trees (87.65 per cent) that they purportedly planted. The sites of these plantations have not been geographically tagged and pictures depicting preparations for the drive (such as photos of dug pits) or those taken during the plantation drive have not been uploaded, raising questions if these trees were indeed planted.

As per the data, in Pune District, the government claims that Gram Panchayats planted 42,33,227 trees. No evidence (geo-tagging, pictures) has been provided for 26,65,687 trees. In Solapur, the government says it planted 29,39,747 trees, but no evidence is uploaded for 27,79,747 trees. In Sangli, where the Gram Panchayat plantation claim is 22,18,170, no geotagging has been done for plantation sites where a total of 18,68,039 trees have purportedly been planted. In Kolhapur, where the Gram Panchayat is said to have planted 32,93,590 trees, the portal has been updated with no evidence for as many as 32,78,135 trees. In Satara, the government claim is 43,24,488 plantation via Gram Panchayats but evidence for only 550 sapling plantation has been uploaded with no geo-tags or pictures for rest 43,24,938 trees.

When reached for comment, Maheep Gupta, Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and co-ordinator for plantation drive by Gram Panchayats, told the reporter to speak to Chief Conservator of Forest (Pune) Vivek Khandekar.

Khandekar said the anomaly could only be explained by the gram panchayats concerned or zilla parishad officials of the districts in question.

“We merely provided a platform for various agencies to upload the data and the pictures, geo-tags. If they did not upload the pictures and geo-tagged the plantation sites, only the gram panchayat officials or Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of zilla parishad concerned can provide an explanation. All I can talk about is the trees planted by forest department in Pune circle,” said Khandekar.

The Indian Express spoke to gram panchayat officials in about 20 villages in Pune, Sangli and Kolhapur and asked them about the drive and reasons for failure to upload the pictures and geograhpical tags on the portal.

According to them, the target given to each gram panchayat this year (average target per panchayat was 3,200) for tree plantation was “too high” and due to lack of funds for the drive, officials chose to “distribute” most of the saplings among farmers and school children asking them to plant them at home or farm. They said that planting 3,200 trees would have required about “Rs 70, 000 to Rs 1 lakh” for hiring machines to dig the pits and pay wages to labourers for planting the saplings. “The Forest department has made no arrangements for grants towards this expense. It has to be borne by the gram panchayat. Most of the gram panchayats have very little revenue and can’t spare the money for this scheme,” said a gram panchayat office bearer at Palus taluka in Sangli district.

“We had planted about 50 trees in the primary school premise. Rest were given away to farmers and school children,” said a gram panchayat official at Kanwad village in Shirol taluka of Kolhapur district.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a Forest department official said that gram panchayats were not supposed to “distribute” the saplings but to plant them. “We have several other schemes and departments that are involved in distribution and sale of saplings. This scheme is about planting the saplings and to ensure that they survive,” said the official.

Kolhapur, Sangli among top performers in Pune division


Though Kolhapur, Sangli districts were in news for devastating floods in August, but according to data provided by the government on the portal, they were among the top three districts in Pune revenue division (along with Satara) to have achieved 100 per cent tree plantation target.

According to the portal, Kolhapur planted 1.13 crore trees between July and September 2019 (100.47 per cent of its target), Sangli planted 75.23 lakh (104.06 per cent) and Satara planted 1.26 crore trees (101.65 per cent) during the same period.

Forest department officials said that since the plantation drive started on July 1, it was possible that the plantation was done before the floods wreaked havoc in the districts in the first week of August.

Residents of several villages in Shirol taluka of Kolhapur and Palus in Sangli — where the floods caused worst devastation — said that even the “50 or 100” saplings that were planted in their villages before the floods by gram panchayats were either washed away or wilted afterwards as they were submerged in water for several weeks.

At Bramhanal in Palus taluka where 17 people had died during floods after a boat carrying rescued villagers had capsized, local residents said that 50-odd trees that the gram panchayat had planted have either disappeared or wilted after floods.

“The water was 15 to 20 feet high. All the houses were submerged. The saplings that were planted by the gram panchayat and were not washed away, have wilted,” said Arvind Chougule, a resident of Bramhanal.

Films Division runs out of space, decades of films stored in corridors

Film Division officials requested Pune-based National Film Archive of India (NFAI) to accept these reels for preservation. But NFAI expressed its inability to do so because of space shortage at its own facilities.

Film reels ‘stored’ in the corridors of sixth floor of Films Division building on Peddar Road, Mumbai.

ATIKH RASHID

AS MANY as 11,000 film cans containing celluloid negatives of documentaries made by Films Division (FD) over the last several decades are being stored without any environment control in the corridors of its office in Mumbai. Reason: Lack of space, say officials.

FD officials requested Pune-based National Film Archive of India (NFAI) to accept these reels for preservation. But NFAI expressed its inability to do so because of space shortage at its own facilities.

According to information obtained under the RTI Act, the FD has sent 19,787 film cans to the NFAI in 21 tranches between September 1996 and December 2015 — but the NFAI can’t accept any more at the moment as the two vaults it has earmarked for FD films are full.

Until three years ago, these FD reels were stored in air-conditioned rooms on the ninth floor of its Phase I building on Peddar Road in Mumbai. But in 2016, it had to vacate the space after the Union I&B Ministry decided to house the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) in that space. The CBFC was earlier functioning from Walkeshwar.

The film cans were then shifted to the corridors of the sixth and seventh floors of the building, while 6,896 reels were sent to NFAI for safekeeping in three tranches. But 11,000 reels continue to be stored “temporarily” in the corridors.

In a communication dated November 14, 2018, the then FD Director-General Prashant Pathrabe sought the “urgent attention” of NFAI Director Prakash Magdum for preserving the “very valuable archival material”.

“…Still about 11000 cans of negatives are remaining in the film library in this office. It’s to state that these films are lying without air-conditioning and humidity control as Films Division does not have any proper storage facility. It’s important to mention that these negatives are very valuable and
require proper preservation in specific conditions (of temperature and humidity),” Pathrabe wrote.

FD Director-General Smita Vats Sharma, who took charge recently, could not be contacted for comment as she is on tour abroad. Responding on her behalf, Anil Kumar N, officer-in-charge for distribution at Films Division, said: “Films Division gives utmost priority to the preservation and upkeep of its filmic material. All the valuable picture negatives are preserved in NFAI vaults. The remaining materials are being segregated and shifted to a place with air-conditioning and humidity control in the Phase II building of FD till film vaults are made available by NFAI.”

K L Senapati, Director (Administration), FD, said: “After the ninth floor was vacated for CBFC three years ago, these cans have been kept in their current place. We have contacted NFAI to take them but they too are helpless due to shortage of space.”

According to Senapati, “most of this material has been digitised”. However, experts say celluloid holds immense archival value even after digitisation.


Santosh Ajmera, officer on special duty at NFAI who heads the National Film Heritage Mission, says the NFAI plans to construct new state-of-the-art storage facilities at a three-acre plot near its Kothrud premises that was recently acquired from the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII).

Once the work is completed, there would be enough space available to safeguard not only Films Division material but also material from different sources and film labs,” said Ajmera.

The films contain original sound and picture negatives of documentary films made by Flms Division over the years.


NFAI officials say they are now planning to hire private facilities to store reels received from other agencies — a proposal has been sent to I&B Ministry.

Responding to an RTI query on the documentaries in the cans stored in the corridors, FD officials said they were in the process of compiling a digital list.

Subsequently, The Indian Express received the names of 50 documentaries whose “master positives” are stored in the corridors, including “I am 20” (1967), directed by S N S Sastry and produced by FD’s then chief producer Jean Bhownagary.

The documentary, which was recently posted on YouTube by FD, contains interviews of several young men and women who were born in 1947 about India as a nation, its present and future.

The list also includes “Mandu: The City of Joy (1957)” about the ancient capital of the Malwa kingdom in western MP; “The Grand Old Man of 19th Century” (1967) on the life and works of Jagannath Shankar Seth in building Mumbai as a modern city; and, “Akbar (1967)”, which won the national award for Best Educational and Motivational Film that year.

Why residents of Parbhani are paying the highest price for petrol?

Fuel stations in this dusty town in Marathwada are selling petrol and diesel dearer than any other place in the country, as Parbhani is situated farthest from the nearest oil depot. The national attention the town is getting thanks to its precarious situation is troubling and amusing to its residents at the same time.

On September 27 2018, Parbhani residents were buying a litre of petrol at Rs 92.05 and diesel at Rs 79.25. (Photo: Atikh Rashid)

ATIKH RASHID / SEPT 27, PARBHANI

EACH time NDTV India’s Ravish Kumar does a ‘Prime Time’ show on the issue of fuel price hike, youngsters in Parbhani brace themselves with cellphones firmly in their hands. As the graphics of cities and towns paying the highest price for petrol in the country are flashed on the TV screen, the cameras click to secure the moment. Parbhani, their hometown whose name hardly rings a bell outside Maharashtra or even within, always tops the list. These pictures are then circulated on social media with a sense of pride.

The fact that the town can ‘boast’ of something, at last, is enough for them.  The last time it had made national news was in November 2003 when a bomb ripped through a crowded local mosque injuring 31 namazis gathered for Friday prayers. Itwas the first incident of a bomb blast at a Muslim place of worship.

On Wednesday, fuel stations in the district were selling petrol at Rs 92.05 a litre and diesel at Rs 79.27 a litre on Wednesday. And yes that was the most expensive fuel anywhere in India.

People of Parbhani, a town with a population just above 3 lakh, have very little they could boast of. The only thing that people find worth mentioning is that it headquarters the Marathwada Agricultural University, one of the four state agricultural universities in Maharashtra.  The town hardly gets a national attention.

“We are used to reading and watching news about what’s happening elsewhere. Nothing happens here so we don’t make it to national news,” said Hasib Shaikh, a college student.

As per petrol pump owners, the reason for the districts in the mainland Maharashtra paying the highest price for petroleum despite enjoying a good railway and road connectivity, is the distance they are situated from the nearest refinery or the fuel depot.

As per Sanjay Deshmukh, President of Parbhani Petrol Dealers Association, there are two depots of the three oil companies namely Indian Oil, Hindustan Petrolium and Bharat Petrolium are situated in Manmad and Solapur. While the former is 311 kms away, the latter is 250 kms from Parbhani.  Hence, if petrol price in Manmad is Rs 90.78 per litre there, cost of transport including toll tax adds about Rs 1 rupee and some paisa to per litre cost.

“There’s not a single refinery or a depot in Marathwada. If the depots were closer, the petrol price could have been slightly cheaper,” said Deshmukh.

‘Residents of one of the most backword districts are paying the highest for fuel’

Parbhani was among the 90 ‘minority concentrated backward districts’ in the country with “unacceptably low” infrastructure and social amenities as per a survey done by Ministry of Minorities Affairs in 2007. As per locals, in absence of any employment opportunities in the town, a majority of youngsters migrate to Aurangabad, Pune or Mumbai. There’s little for the educated to stick around.

This year a deficient monsoon has made things more difficult as the district is already staring at crop failure in the Kharif.  Even though the end of monsoon is close,  the district has so far received only 592.4 mm rains as opposed to the normal rainfall of 741 .6mm thereby falling short by 20 per cent. Inflation in fuel prices have only compounded the problems of the residents.

“You can gauge the state of the local economy from the fact that the average sale of petrol per customer is Rs 50. About 80 per cent of the customers that visit our petrol pump buy just about half a litre of petrol. Less than 10 per cent customers spend Rs 500 at one go,” said Musa Shaikh, an attendant at Bhikulal Petrol Pump. “It’s a big irony that residents of one of the most backward city are paying highest for the petrol.”

Situation is equally bad in Nanded and Jalna, which border Parbhani, in terms of price of fuel. (Pic: Atikh Rashid)

Situation is equally bad in Nanded (Rs 91.02) and Jalna (Rs 91.16) which had made to the list of most backward 115 districts in the country published by Niti Ayog earlier this year. In fact all seven districts in Marathwada, the drought prone region in Maharashtra, have crossed Rs 90 a litre mark about a week ago and are now inching towards a 100. The value added tax levied by Maharashtra on fuel is highest in the country (39.12 per cent in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Thane and 38.11 per cent for rest of Maharashtra for petrol) which includes surcharges such as drought cess, Krishi Kalyan cess and cess to make up for loss suffered by state during ban of sale of liquor along highways.

The spiralling price has expected effects on the local economy with prices for transport, vegetables and other essential goods going up. “Earlier we used to charge Rs 10 for a shared rickshaw ride from Railway Station to Jintur Naka. Now we are taking Rs 15 for the same distance. We lose some business due to the hike but if we continue to operate on the old rates, we don’t make any money,” said Akshay Kale, an auto-rickshaw driver..

In Parbhani, Motorists often carry bottles to measure petrol before it’s poured in the vehicle tanks to ensure that they are not cheated while buying the expensive commodity. (Photo: Atikh Rashid)

At fuel stations people often carry one litre water bottle to make sure that they are getting the right quantity. They ask the attendant to put the hose inside the bottle instead of the fuel tank and observe if it’s the right quantity and the attendant is not cheating them by using some trick.

“We can’t afford to get cheated by the pump when the fuel is so expensive,” says a customer as he downs the bottle carefully in the fuel tank making sure that every drop lands in the tank.

On Wednesday, several opposition parties organised a protest rally in the dusty playground off the state transport bus station. At this rally, held opposite District Collector’s office in the town, speaker after speaker pointed out, in sarcastic tone, how the Central Government has ‘managed’ to give Parbhani an identity of its own on the national map.

“Outside Maharashtra, many had not even heard the name:  Parbhani. But thanks to Modi Government, today the entire country has come to know our existence,” said a speaker, his tongue firmly in the cheek. “These days, whenever we travel to other cities, people ask us ‘Why is it that petrol is most expensive in Parbhani?’. How the hell we are supposed to know?,” he says adding a hint of anger to his tone as the audience laughs.

I&B Ministry sets up expert panel to probe Film Archive issues

Apart from this, the I&B ministry had also formed a committee to review the work being done under the National Film Heritage Mission (NFHM) at the NFAI.

ATIKH RASHID

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) has constituted a five-member expert committee comprising veteran filmmakers and film preservation experts to look into the condition of films as well as the storage vaults at the National Film Archive of India (NFAI). The committee will also suggest ways and means to preserve the films in a better manner. The committee comprises filmmakers Shaji N Karun, Ketan Mehta, Piyush Shah, former NFAI director K S Sasidharan and Shri Ponnaya, former chief of laboratory at Prasad Labs, Hyderabad.

Starting from September 2017, The Indian Express had published a series of news reports bringing to the fore glaring lacunae in the way celluloid films were being looked after at the Pune-based NFAI. Among these were the findings of an inventory carried out by a private firm for NFAI, which had claimed that as many as 51,500 film reels that were on accession records of the Archive were not physically present in its vaults.

Another news report had pointed out that thousands of film reels received from various sources by NFAI were lying in gunny bags. Yet another report stated that even after a major fire incident in 2003, the Archive lacked fire-fighting capacity, and nine important film prints were lying in a sealed film lab in Mumbai where NFAI had sent them for copying way back in 2007.

In March 2018, The Indian Express reported that due to NFAI’s failure to maintain the desired temperature and humidity levels within its vaults, a major chunk of film reels stored in the vaults were affected by deterioration — termed technically as vinegar syndrome. Earlier this week, this newspaper had published a report pointing out that three regional offices opened by NFAI in 1980s were non-functional for over a decade and no efforts were being taken to revive them.

The committee has been tasked with five specific responsibilities, namely to prepare a list of loss of films with archival value, suggest ways to salvage the National Film Heritage Mission, look into the condition of films and film related material at the Archive, suggest ways and means to restore them, and carry out a physical assessment of the condition of storage vaults.

An official with the I&B Ministry, who is privy to the development, said the Ministry decided to form a committee after going through a preliminary report submitted by Karun, following a surprise visit by him and Joint Secretary (Films) Ashok Kumar Parmar on April 4. Karun and Parmar had visited all film storage vaults at both the premises of NFAI in the city.

ALSO READ | ‘Vinegar syndrome’ ruining film treasure at National Film Archive, reveals data from film assessment project

“Two weeks ago, I had submitted a report to the Ministry based on my observations during the surprise check. I had suggested a few things that needed to be done for better storage of films at the Archive. Based on that, the five-member committee has been formed to probe the matter further,” Karun told The Indian Express. The filmmaker said the committee members will hold a meeting to decide the way forward. “The aim is to assess the damage that has been done to films stored at NFAI, find a way to avoid it in future and salvage the films that have been damaged,” said Karun.

Apart from this, the I&B ministry had also formed a committee to review the work being done under the National Film Heritage Mission (NFHM) at the NFAI.

The NFHM is a nearly Rs 600-crore project aimed at conserving, digitising and preserving the celluloid heritage of the country. Launched in 2014, it is being implemented by the NFAI.

The committee will look into financial as well as other matters pertaining to the NFHM. This committee comprises Parmar, Additional Secretary and Financial Advisor Ali R Rizvi, and Senior Economic Advisor Rohit Kumar Parmar.

Express reports prompt I&B to conduct surprise check at NFAI

Joint Secretary (Films) at the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Ashok Kumar Parmar, and Karun, arrived unannounced on Wednesday morning and visited all 19 storage vaults on NFAI’s premises at Law College Road and Kothrud. The two will submit a report to the I&B Ministry about their inspection.

ATIKH RASHID

Taking cognisance of a series of reports published in The Indian Express on the state of affairs at the National Film Archives of India (NFAI), a senior official from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) and veteran filmmaker Shaji N Karun on Wednesday made a surprise inspection of the storage facilities at the institution.

Joint Secretary (Films) at the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Ashok Kumar Parmar, and Karun, arrived unannounced on Wednesday morning and visited all 19 storage vaults on NFAI’s premises at Law College Road and Kothrud. The two will submit a report to the I&B Ministry about their inspection.

“We have taken note of the issues that we found during our inspection and all this will be conveyed to the ministry,” Parmar told The Indian Express. Karun said that “being a film person”, I&B Minister Smriti Irani was herself concerned about the issues highlighted in the reports of The Indian Express, and that was the reason she had sent Parmar and him for a ‘preliminary inspection’.

“We will write a report and submit our observations to the ministry. This might be followed by a more detailed inquiry,” said Karun.

The Indian Express had reported on March 30 that NFAI often failed to maintain the desired temperature and humidity levels within its vaults, as a result of which several film reels had started showing signs of permanent damage. Data obtained by this newspaper pertaining to an ongoing assessment of film reels stored at NFAI showed that of the 58,670 reels checked till the end of November 2017, only 17,052 had remained unaffected by vinegar syndrome, a term used to describe the deterioration in acetate-base films. A total of 27,387 reels were in various stages of vinegarisation — from being mildly affected to being in a rapidly decomposing state — while 14,231 had reached a stage of irreversible damage.

Asked about its observations on the storage facilities at NFAI, Karun said the situation was “bad”. “In one of the vaults, we could not stand (due to the foul smell). We had to come out quickly,” he said.

Parmar said the ministry had also formed a committee to review the work being done under National Film Heritage Mission (NFHM) at the NFAI. The NFHM is a nearly Rs 600-crore project aimed at conserving, digitising and preserving the celluloid heritage of the country. Launched in 2014, it is being implemented by the NFAI. “A three-member committee will review the work being done under NFHM. The committee will inspect the financial as well as physical matters. It’s likely to visit NFAI next week,” said Parmar. The committee comprises Parmar, Additional Secretary and Financial Advisor Ali R Rizvi, and Senior Economic Advisor Rohit Kumar Parmar. In September last year, The Indian Express had published a series of news reports bringing out the findings of an internal NFAI assessment, which had claimed that as many as 51,500 film reels that were on accession records of the Archive were not physically present in its vaults.

The reports had also pointed out that thousands of film reels at NFAI had been lying dumped in gunny bags, that even after a major fire incident in 2003, the archive lacked fire-fighting capacity, and that nine important film prints were lying in a sealed film lab in Mumbai where NFAI had sent them for copying way back in 2007.

Number of films at NFAI never verified, projections to I&B fictitious: Former NFAI Director K S Sasidharan

K S Sasidharan, who worked with NFAI for over two decades, serving at its director for five years before retiring in 2008, spoke to Atikh Rashid on these issues, and more.

ATIKH RASHID

IN September last year, The Indian Express published a series of reports on the state of affairs at the city-based National Film Archive of India (NFAI). Among other things, the articles mentioned the findings of a report that claimed as many as 51,500 film reels, which were on accession records of the Archive, were not present in its vaults. Last week, another report in the newspaper revealed that as per the ongoing ‘condition assessment project’ at the organisation, a large number of celluloid film reels stored at NFAI have reached critical level of decomposition due to failure to maintain ideal storage conditions inside its vaults.

K S Sasidharan, who worked with NFAI for over two decades, serving at its director for five years before retiring in 2008, spoke to Atikh Rashid on these issues, and more.

What would you say about the issues afflicting the NFAI as brought out in the reports in The Indian Express?

I have been reading them. See, NFAI has always had administrative and accountability issues. Can you imagine that even after 53 years of its existence, NFAI doesn’t even have an ‘organisational manual’ which lays down rules and procedures for smooth functioning. During my tenure as NFAI director, a draft for the manual was prepared. When it was placed before the Advisory Committee of NFAI for approval, a prominent member raised some silly objections that led to scuttling the project. P K Nair, who was on the committee, volunteered to prepare the manual but it never materialised.

In absence of such a document which lays down rules and procedures, officers can go on doing things the way they like. Any senior functionary will find it convenient not to have one because it brings restrictions on his authority to indulge in unlawful practices.

What about the more than 51,500 missing film reels? Officials say these could be the reels that were disposed of in 1995 and 2008. But records show only 28,400 were disposed then.

51,500 is too big a number to be entirely accounted for through disposals. When I was at NFAI (Pune headquarters), the disposal happened only once, in 1995. Although I was deputy director at that time, I was not involved in the whole process of disposal of films. The job was assigned to the then Film Preservation Officer by the Director.

Is it possible that these prints went out of NFAI and never returned?

I am not in a position to comment on this. Another explanation could be that the projection of number of films acquired by NFAI was not factual in the first place. This is entirely possible because the method to arrive at the total number of films with NFAI was flawed.

The numbers published in the Annual Report of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B), which were in turn provided by NFAI, were deemed to be factual numbers. Successive directors relied on those figures and kept updating them by adding the number of films acquired by them during their time. For example, if the annual report for previous year says NFAI had 12,000 films and I acquired 800 more during the current year, while sending the annual report for that year I would send 12,800 as total number of films held by the Archive without physically verifying it.

It also became a number game. So every director focuses on acquiring more films and letting the Ministry know it. Now, from what you have reported, it’s obvious that those projections in the annual reports were fictitious. It’s a human tendency, the darker side gets darker while the brighter side gets projected out of all proportions.

Why wasn’t an audit of inventory done even once in the last 53 years, including during your tenure?

In government, you go by precedence which was that you needed to only add fresh arrivals to the figure supplied to the ministry the previous year. This is where the mistake crept in. Also, conducting a stock verification was very difficult. There wasn’t enough staff. There was no established mechanism. All the factors contributed to the confusion.

We published pictures of about 14,900 film reels dumped in gunny bags in halls at NFAI Phase II premise.

I don’t know what films those are… the best thing would be to segregate the material worth preserving in the Archive and to discard the junk. There has to be a mechanism for disposal of films that have deteriorated irretrievably. I don’t think NFAI has such a mechanism even today. This is where the relevance of a manual comes in.

About 17,000 film reels packed in gunny bags and boxes were sent to a private warehouse 40 km away from NFAI’s campus in February-March 2016. Prakash Magdum, director of NFAI, said that this wasn’t unprecedented and such shifting to private facilities had happened during P K Nair’s time as well.

It must have happened, but it never happened during my tenure. Also, if you are saying the reels deteriorated then why would you spend public money on transport and storage at a private warehouse? It should have been avoided at any cost.

We also found out and reported that prints of nine important films from the black and white era are locked inside a lab (now dysfunctional) in Mumbai, which was sealed in 2010 over a legal dispute.

I can tell you that it’s squarely the responsibility of the Film Preservation Wing to monitor the movement of the films at the Archive, whether they are going out for copying or being sent out for screenings. It’s the bona-fide duty of the Film Preservation Officer to ensure that the material is back at the Archive within the stipulated time. The time window used to be maximum two to three weeks.

In case of the nine films mentioned, very important material and copyright issues are involved too. If the material is not back with the Archive within time, you should smell a rat and adopt legal measures to retrieve the archival property.

You were NFAI director when the unfortunate incident of fire in the nitrate vault took place in 2003. You had to face a lot of criticism for loss of cinematic heritage. How do you see it now?

There was a departmental inquiry and it was found that the fire had started because of rough handling of the air conditioning system installed there, leading to a spark that caused the fire. The nature of nitrate films is such that once it catches fire, you won’t be able to douse it even if you bring all the fire tenders in the world till the last bit of the film is burnt out.

More importantly, I will tell you how things work at NFAI. Construction and maintenance of storage facilities is done by the Civil Construction Wing (CCW) of All India Radio. These are the people who have no cinematic sensibilities. Although they are responsible for day-to-day upkeep of film vaults and other facilities, they are not given any orientation training in cinema and its heritage value in the context of history and culture, to sensitise them adequately. Also, NFAI has no control over them. It’s still a problem.

‘Vinegar syndrome’ ruining film treasure at National Film Archive, reveals data from film assessment project

NFAI fails to maintain the desired temperature and humidity within its vaults, causing rapid film decomposition; AC units break down frequently and remain unattended for prolonged periods, documents show.

Air-conditioners and dehumidifiers installed inside the vaults often break down and remain in disrepair for months.

ATIKH RASHID

IN February 2009, P K Nair, the film archivist who is credited with setting up Pune-based National Film Archive of India (NFAI), wrote a letter to the Prime Minister’s Office, complaining that “25,000 reels of rare archival footage” at NFAI had been disposed of because the staff “could not stand the foul smell emanating from the reels”.

Nair, who retired as director of NFAI in 1991 but continued to keep an eye over the institution, said the reels disposed of contained “some rare national award-winning films for which no negatives or duplicate material exists anywhere in the country to the best of my knowledge”.

The ‘foul smell’ mentioned in his letter is the stench that emanates from acetate base film reels once they start decomposing after being exposed to heat and humidity. Preservationists call this ‘vinegar syndrome’ since the chemical released by films while decomposing is ‘acetic acid’, known commonly as vinegar.

In September last year, present NFAI director Prakash Magdum had told The Indian Express that the institution had disposed of a total of 28,400 reels in two tranches — in 1995 and in 2008. Nair, it seems, was referring to the second instance in his letter to the PMO.

Vijay Jadhav, director of NFAI when Nair made the complaint, passed away in 2010. Nair died in 2016. But the ‘vinegar syndrome’ continues to ruin the treasure of films stored at NFAI.

Information obtained by The Indian Express shows that a majority of the film reels stored at NFAI was affected by the ‘vinegar syndrome’ and a considerable number of them had been damaged irretrievably.

As part of the ‘Film Collection Assessment Project’, which is the first stage in the National Film Heritage Mission (NFHM) launched by I&B Ministry, NFAI is, among other things, gauging the extent of damage caused by ‘vinegar syndrome’ to its collection. While the project is ongoing, data from 10 of the 19 storage vaults shows that of the 58,670 reels checked with acid detection strips by the end of November 2017, only 17,052 had remained unaffected by the syndrome. A total of 27,387 reels were in various stages of vinegarisation – from mildly affected, to rapidly decomposing – and 14,231 had reached the stage where the film gets irretrievably damaged due to decomposition.

A Preservationist’s Nightmare

In 1940s, acetate film base, often called safety base, emerged as an answer to the ephemerality of highly-inflammable nitrate film which was the only available film base till then. Use of cellulose nitrate for photographic film was slowly phased out, with filmmakers relying more and more on ‘triacetate cellulose’ base. In fact, a majority of surviving nitrate film collection was transferred on acetate film, hoping that it will be secured for the future. Sadly, it soon became apparent that the safety base wasn’t stable either. While it was not inflammatory, the acetate film has the tendency of ‘deacetylation’ — breaking down into simpler compounds — when exposed to high temperature and humidity. The acid, thus, released then acts as catalyst for further deacetylation, causing rapid deterioration of the affected film and even infecting the un-damaged acetate films stored nearby.

In advanced stages of decay due to vinegarisation, the film shrinks, the image layers gets delaminated from the base, the film may become brittle, crystal deposits and bubbles are formed on the surface of the film. The film reel is, thus, rendered unsuitable to be projected, or, in most cases, even copied.

NFAI’s struggles with heat and humidity

The best way to avoid and check ‘vinegar syndrome’ is to store the film under controlled temperature (around 2 to 4 degree celsius for colour, 12-14 degrees for B&W) and relative humidity (25-30 per cent for colour films, 50 per cent for B&W). Lower temperatures and drier conditions slow the decomposition process and the films stored in right conditions may last for several centuries.

The systems installed to control temperature and humidity at NFAI, and their upkeep, are grossly unsatisfactory, documents obtained by The Indian Express show. Not only the air conditioning systems and dehumidifiers break down frequently but, more alarmingly, it sometimes takes four to six months to repair them.

I P Mishra, Executive Engineer (Electrical) Civil Construction Wing of All India Radio which is in-charge of setting up and maintaining infrastructure at NFAI, while speaking to The Indian Express in September last year, had blamed the continuous operation of the AC systems inside the vaults for frequents breakdowns. He said that since the spare parts needed for repair are difficult to procure, the repair work gets delayed.

“The air conditioning system run 24 X 7 which leads to wear and tear, resulting in breakdowns and need of maintenance,” Mishra had said.

Documents show that between November 2014 and November 2017, air-conditioning systems and dehumidifiers in Vault No 8, Vault No 9, Vault no.10 and Vault No.11 remained out of order for a prolonged period of time. Despite requests for repair by NFAI officials, the Civil Construction Wing (All India Radio) remained unresponsive sometimes for months.

The Result

The film condition assessment data accessed by The Indian Express shows that the shoddy upkeep at NFAI has taken a toll on the films, especially in vaults where temperature and humidity control devices remained dysfunctional.

The situation was worst in Vault No 8 where, of the total 7,591 reels on which AD strip tests were performed (of 8,067 reels stored in that vault), only 53 were unaffected by vinegarisation. Around 2,688 reels were in various stages of deterioration while as many as 4,850 reels had reached an acidity level of pH value less than 4 which damages the reels permanently. These reels contain over 300 films, including all nine double reels of Awaara, seven out of eight reels of a print of Do Bigha Zameen, all eight reels of release positive of Mother India, two prints of Kalia Mardan containing five reels each, and three prints of Sahab Bibi aur Ghulam.

Similar was the case in Vault No.11 and others (see box).

NFAI Director Prakash Magdum and Official on Special Duty (NFHM) Santosh Ajmera did not respond to queries despite multiple attempts to contact him. Former director K S Sasidharan pointed to peculiar maintenance system at NFAI which may be working to the detriment of the film heritage. While NFAI is custodian of the reels stored in the vaults, the responsibility of maintaining the vaults in ideal conditions of temperature and humidity is with CCW (AIR), whose officials do not have any training or understanding of film preservation.

“These people have no cinematic sensibilities. Although they are responsible for day-to-day upkeep of films vaults and other facilities, they are not given any orientation training in cinema and its heritage value in the context of history and culture. Also, NFAI has no control over them,” said Sasidharan who served as director between 2002 and 2008.

College of Agriculture campus lost 119 acres to govt projects in three decades

Information obtained by The Indian Express using Right To Information shows that the state government and municipal corporations have been turning to the college demanding land for various projects and walking away with big chunks despite protests from the institute authorities.

Recently the state government handed over 28.44 acres from the campus to the Maha Metro Rail Corporation Ltd for building a maintenance depot.

ATIKH RASHID

One of the biggest green spaces in the heart of the city — the College of Agriculture campus — has shrunk by 119.72 acres in the last three and half decades, according to data obtained by The Indian Express under the Right To Information (RTI) Act. (One acre equals 43,560 sqft). The lost green space has been used variously for widening roads, building subways and offices, agriculture-related schemes and, most recently, for building a maintenance depot for the Pune Metro.

The College of Agriculture was set up in 1879 as a department linked to the College of Science (now the College of Engineering, Pune) and, later in 1907, became a separate institute. Back then, the campus sprawled over 150 acres.

In later years, as activities expanded, the campus grew to 569.91 acres — this included land at the college’s Shivajinagar campus, farms in the Ganeshkhind area, the dairy department in Khadki and research plots in Manjari on Solapur Road. Data shows since the eighties, the college has relinquished land for various projects of the state government, the Centre and the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) but was rarely given land in compensation by government agencies.

The lush green college campus is not only popular with students who come here to study but is also a popular destination for nature lovers. The old stone college building is one of the most beautiful edifices in the city and the location for many a film shoots.

The beautiful main building constructed by British in early 20th century is a popular destination for film shoots.

Documents show the college received no land in return for a 35,000-sqft land it gave for construction of a subway on the Pune-Mumbai Highway, a 12,670-sqft land for the widening of Mula Road, a 1,23,202-sqft land for further expansion of the road, a 52,267-sqft land for widening of the Pune-Mumbai Highway, a 25,220-sqft land for the widening of University Road, a 1,549-sqft land for shifting the Mhasoba Mandir following the construction of a flyover on University Road and a 26,900-sqft land for a pumping station.

In December 2000, the college gave 8.46 acres to Sakhar Sankul, the office of the sugar commissioner, but received no land in compensation. Besides, the college gave 30.66 hectares for setting up the Directorate of Floriculture, which comes under the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). In the most recent instance, the college provided land for a maintenance depot of the Pune Metro, work on which started last year. The state government handed over 28.44 acres from the main campus of the college to the Maha Metro Rail Corporation Ltd (MMRCL) although the move was opposed by the college authorities.

Communications sent by the college authorities to the Maha Metro as well as the state government, obtained under the RTI Act, show that the college argued if the land was handed over to the Maha Metro, it would hamper expansion plans of the college as well as affect its current academic and research activities.

Work has commenced on the land plot handed over to Maha Metro for maintenance depot (Arul Horizon)

“Agricultural education involves experimental learning modules, which require practicals on the fields. Also, availability of land is one of the criteria for grant of funds by the Indian Council for Agricultural Research. If we lose a major chunk of land, then these prospects will take a beating. shrinking of the area will affect the agricultural education model in the entire state,” states another communication sent to the principal secretary (agriculture) on March 24 last year.

The institute’s administration had also pointed out that a whopping 6,133 trees, part of the genetically pure mother plant orchards, would be felled to clear the land for the project. The state government, however, went ahead with the land acquisition, asking the Maha Metro to transplant the orchards elsewhere on the campus.

A year after demonetisation, currency chests of banks still saddled with crores in old notes

The Indian Express spoke to a number of officials working with currency chests in Pune, as well as senior officers of various banks, who said that almost all the currency chests in the city still hold a bulk of the scrapped notes, as the RBI has been unable to take them away due to the limited disposal capacity at its offices

ATIKH RASHID

A year after demonetisation, its success or failure is still a matter of debate, with the government and Opposition still making contradictory claims. While people had to suffer considerably in the aftermath of the decision, even bankers were hit by the decision to withdraw high-value currency notes, and their work increased considerably. Over a year after the Centre announced the move, some bankers continue to feel the effects of demonetisation.

These are the officials who work with the banks’ currency chests, as they are left holding the demonetised Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes deposited by lakhs of customers. Officials working with currency chests in Pune, as well as senior officers of various banks, have said that almost all the currency chests in the city still hold a bulk of the scrapped notes, as the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has been unable to take them away due to the limited disposal capacity at its offices. The notes remain the property of the RBI, but are stored in the chests managed by the banks concerned.

Bank officials pointed out that this scenario often affects their routine currency distribution function, as the storage space is used up by scrapped notes, leaving limited space for currency used in their routine operations. The RBI has three regional offices in Maharashtra: the one in Belapur, Navi Mumbai, caters to 11 districts including Pune as well as the state of Goa; the Fort Regional Office in Mumbai which caters to parts of the state, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, and a third one in Nagpur with jurisdiction over the whole of Marathwada and Vidarbha regions, apart from a few districts of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh.

As many as 189 currency chests are connected to the RBI’s regional office in Belapur, 29 of which are in Pune district. Staffers working with currency chests and bankers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that in the days after November 8 last year, the chests started filling up with demonetised notes. “At that time, the focus was on remonetisation and dealing with the shortage of currency, so the old notes remained with the banks’ currency chests and nobody complained about it.

However, when the RBI didn’t give us any guidelines till May, we started to follow up with the apex bank, to get rid of the old notes,” said a senior officer of a leading bank. “The old notes were taking up considerable space in the chests… and our distribution operations were affected due to the limited storage space in the vaults. After our follow-ups, RBI started picking up the notes from the chests in August 2017. They used to pick up a portion of old notes from each chest, instead of emptying out a single one,” said the officer. The officials pointed out that the capacity of the RBI, to dispose of old notes, was limited. Usually, only old soiled notes, counterfeit currency or notes of a certain batch that has been withdrawn can be shredded, pulped or burnt. “With demonetisation, suddenly 1,500 crore pieces of invalid currency were created. So, it was understandable that the RBI will take a long time to dispose of all the old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes,” said an official working with the currency chest of a nationalised bank. He said that according to his estimate, it may take the RBI two to three more months to take away all the notes.

The senior manager of a bank, who claimed that the bank’s currency chest still holds “over Rs 800 crore” in old notes, said he has been “following up rigorously” with the RBI’s Belapur office. “Rs 500 to Rs 1000 old notes occupy almost 60 per cent of the total capacity of the chest, leaving only 40 per cent space for our functional storage. We were promised that the old stock will be picked up by October but it’s yet to happen,” said the manager. He said that the bank was hoping that relief will arrive soon after the currency chest of Canara Bank was emptied of old notes by the RBI earlier this month.

The situation is no different at the 12 currency chests held by the State Bank of India in Pune district. Officials working with the Pune Treasury Branch of SBI, which coordinates distribution of currency for about 160 branches in Pune district, along with smaller banks, said that their vaults too were full of old notes. “In the third week of September, a portion of the old notes stored in our currency chest at the Treasury Branch, as well as parts of other SBI currency chests, were picked up. We were told that more old notes will be shifted to the Belapur office for disposal this month. It’s yet to happen,” said the official . However, the bankers admitted that the situation was much better now, when compared to the months after demonetisation. “We were forced to keep the cash in steel trunks on the floor, because the vaults were full. We managed to shift some of the old notes by taking them with us to the RBI’s Belapur office, when we visited it to pick up new notes,” said an official.

An assistant manager with a suburban branch of IDBI Bank shared that due to shortage of space in the bank’s currency chest, they often refuse to accept bundles of Rs 10, Rs 20 and Rs 50 notes from customers. “We have either stopped accepting Rs 10, Rs 20 and Rs 50 bundles from customers or we force those who withdraw large sums to take a portion of the amount in smaller denominations, to get rid of these bundles,” said the assistant manager.

From old bills to new civil works, where National Film heritage mission funds went

EXPRESS RTI: It aims at restoration of 1,050 feature films and 960 shorts; digitisation of 1,050 features and 1,200 shorts, construction of vaults of international standards, and training programmes.

ATIKH RASHID

When the National Film Heritage Mission (NFHM) was rolled out in November 2014 with the Union Cabinet approving Rs 597.41 crore, the National Film Archive of India (NFAI) in Pune was selected as the implementing agency. The scheme’s objective is preservation and restoration of India’s celluloid film heritage, the work to be undertaken from 2014-15 to 2020-21. It aims at restoration of 1,050 feature films and 960 shorts; digitisation of 1,050 features and 1,200 shorts, construction of vaults of international standards, and training programmes.
Of the total allocation, Rs 291 crore is to be spent during the 12th Plan and Rs 306.41 crore during 13th. In the last three years, NFAI has received Rs 21.16 crore under NFHM. Half these funds went into settling an old liability that NFAI owed to a subsidiary of Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group, according to accounts accessed by The Indian Express under the Right to Information Act. The firm had been contracted for digitisation and restoration of films before NFHM was rolled out.

NFAI paid Reliance Media Works Limited Rs 10 crore in December 2014 to clear the “outstanding liability” after it received an approval for this from the I&B Ministry. In April 2015, Rs 2 lakh was additionally paid; this “cleared the liability totally”.

NFAI officials said that under the earlier project for digitisation and restoration, which was executed during the 11th Plan (2007-12), 566 films were digitised, including 329 that were restored. Bills for this work, submitted by Reliance Media Works between March 2011 and March 2012, and accessed by The Indian Express, were for Rs 38.71 crore.

“[The Rs 10.02 crore] was an outstanding amount, which could not be paid due to budget constraints during the 11th Five Year Plan,” said Prakash Magdum, NFAI director. “In fact, this was a kind of pilot project of digitisation in which some of the finest films from India were digitised, thereby making them accessible to cinema lovers. The objectives of NFHM were envisaged based on learnings from this project.”

NFAI spent Rs 3.80 crore on civil works, which included renovation and refurbishing of NFAI auditorium, installation of three new DCP projectors, modification of the director’s office, electrical works, renovation of toilets, construction of temporary sheds and parking area, thermal insulation of service blocks, and new workstations for staff. And Rs 3.25 crore was spent on purchase of new computers, storage equipment as well as on publicity including social media management.

Another Rs 3.77 crore was spent on payment to KPMG India, which won the contract for the consultancy firm for NFHM, and Prasad Labs that bagged the contract for condition assessment of the films with NFAI.

Besides, Rs 24 lakh and Rs 8 lakh were spent on buying film publicity material from hobbyists and domestic travel respectively. NFAI pays collectors of non-film material such as posters, stills, song booklets, press clippings at photos at various rates, ranging from Rs 100 per item belonging to contemporary times (since 1991) to Rs 1,000 per item belonging to the silent era.

On spending NFHM funds on civil works at NFAI, Makhdum said, “In order to fulfil objectives of NFHM, there is necessity for creating infrastructure environment which can be done in the government through major and minor works, which has changed the overall organisation setup and helped bringing it to modern, technology, equipped and state of art archive setup. Also enabling it to come closer to people at large.”