Three months on, heritage museum still waiting for clearance to reopen
Three months have passed but the Calcutta University has not given clearance to open the century old heritage museum of Zoology department where a fire had broken out in March. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had given grant of Rs 12.58 lakh in November, 2013 for restoration, identification and proper display of the specimens.
The Calcutta University authorities and the senior teachers of Zoology department are passing the buck and their indifference to open the museum of international repute have raised several questions in the academic circles particularly at a time when Mamata Banerjee and the state education minister Partha Chatterjee had said over and over again that the past glory of Bengal in the field of higher education should be restored. Had the accident not taken place Chief Minister would have been invited to inaugurate the museum after restoration.
Because of the delay, at least two important collaborative projects could not take off. Professor Alan Warren of London’s natural History Museum had shown keen interest to trace the origin of all specimen received from nations which were British colonies. Professor Gwen Schug, Zoo archaeologist associated with the Appalachian State University, Northern Carolina had agreed to teach the research scholars.
Ena Ray Banerjee, head of the Immunology and Regenerative Medicine Research laboratory said work is on to restore 125 specimens that got damaged. “For the past 85 days the museum is closed and the specimens are covered with dust and steps should be taken immediately to open this priceless museum which includes, among other specimens, an elephant fetus donated by the Maharaja of Mysore.”
The Zoology department started in the two storeyed building on Ballygunge Circular Road donated by Tarak nath Palit to the Calcutta University whose Vice- Chancellor was Ashutosh Mukherjee in 1916. Great British naturalists like Ernst Mayr, JBS Halden and Patrick Gades had taught in the department. The specimens were either collected from the field by the teachers or researchers or from reciprocal exchanges between museums in various British colonies or private collections.
There are specimens that are preserved with formalin, glycerin etc or are dry specimens known as Taxidermy. There are models of the inner body parts of microscopic parasites.
Till end 1960s, the museum was a part of the curriculum. There were five posts for the museum like the curator, taxidermist, demonstrator, artist and photographer. By the mid 1970s the old staffs retired and no replacement was made.