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Shining Light on Doon’s Legacy Institutions


By Dr Sanjeev Chopra

What is the USP of a literature festival? How is it different from a book reading club, or a seminar series or policy colloquia? How can it connect with knowledge institutions in its vicinity?  How does it bridge the inter-generational gap? How can meaningful dialogues be created between academia and those who work with an ear to the ground? How do we evaluate successes and challenges faced by legacy institutions, especially when the context and technology have evolved beyond recognition over time? And last, but not the least, how does a festival look at the vast reservoir of archival material and research that needs to be resurrected and made relevant to the times we live in?

As Valley of Words enters its eighth year, these were some issues that came up for discussion in the Governing Council and in the extended meetings with our key advisers, stakeholders and volunteers. It struck us that Dehradun is home to some  of the oldest  historical institutions which  have contributed so much to the  understanding of  India  that is Bharat – from its external and internal boundaries, its coastlines and its economic zones,  flora, fauna, wildlife, glacial bodies, geological formations, spiritual insights, art, sculpture besides, of course, governance and strategic thought. When so many institutions exist in such close proximity to each other, can they connect with each other as well as with the larger public and potential stakeholders?

This is the backdrop to our endeavour this year to showcase the work of the National Hydrographic Office, Survey of India, the Forest Research Institute, the Wildlife Institute of India, the Wadia Institute of Geology, Dr Dwijen Sen Memorial Kala Kendra and Swami Rama Himalayan University in our festival. We hope to connect each of these legacy institutions with a young cohort – from a school or a university which will interact with the current leadership of these institutions, understand the growth over the years, develop themes for discussion, organise a display of publications and curate a dialogue for all the visitors to the Valley of Words. It is one thing for an institution to bring out a nice illustrated large format book (the technical name for a coffee table book), it is quite another to look at it from the lens of the young Indians – the bright sparks who will carry this forward to India@2047 and beyond.

The British were a naval power and, therefore, even before they began work on measuring the land over which they started exercising ‘de facto control’, they prepared the nautical profile of India. We understand that first chart of the Indian Ocean was prepared by the British East India Company in 1703. Later, the maritime department of the Company was taken over by the Royal Indian Navy with Karachi Naval Station as the Headquarters. After Indian independence in 1947, the task was entrusted to the Marine Survey of India from Bombay. In the sixties, the office was shifted to Dehradun as the Naval Hydrographic Office in a plot of land adjacent to the Survey of India but, in view of the growing profile of India in hydrography, the office was renamed once again in 1997 as National Hydrographic Office.

Seven decades from the publication of the oceanic profile, it was time to turn to the land. In 1767, the East India Company established the Survey of Bengal to map the territories under its possession. Every time the EIC added territory, the map was updated for the office of the Governor General. Forerunners of the army of the East India Company, the Surveyors had an onerous task of exploring the unknown. An extract from their website puts it so succinctly: ‘bit by bit the tapestry of Indian terrain was completed by the painstaking efforts of a distinguished line of Surveyors such as Mr Lambton and Sir George Everest’. The Survey carried out the great trigonometrical survey, and was responsible for laying down India’s borders with Afghanistan, Burma, Tibet and Bhutan. It also marked the internal boundaries of the country, especially between the areas under the direct administration of British India and the princely states. By deliberate design, many frontier areas were not demarcated with exact precision for, in their conception, the mainland and the frontier were different entities.

Post-independence, the Survey of India was assigned the responsibility of clearly demarcating the areas listed in the Schedule 1 of Article 1 of the Constitution of India, which defines the name and territory of the Union. India is a Union of States, and the states and their territories are specified in the First Schedule. Every time there is a change in the First Schedule – as for example the reorganisation of the J&K on 5 August, 2019, into the UTs of Ladakh and J&K – it is duly reflected on the maps printed and published by the Survey of India. Then, of course, there are some other interesting aspects which merit attention – as for example the fact that the first copy of the Constitution of India was printed at the Survey of India Press!

From 1976, Dehradun is also home to Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology in memory of its founder, the late Prof Darashaw Nosherwan Wadia (FRS and National Professor). Here, in this institute, we catch a glimpse of the mighty Himalaya; its origin, evolution in time and space, natural resources, life in the geological past, earthquakes and environmental aspects. A relief model of the Himalaya and paintings depicting the impact of human activities on the environment are on display in the Museum named after another distinguished scientist, SP Nautiyal. In 2009, the Institute received funds for   the Centre for Himalayan Glaciology to mount a coordinated research initiative on Himalayan glaciology to understand the factors controlling the effects of climate on glaciers in order to develop strategies for climate change adaptability for sustained growth of society.

Taken together, the three institutions give us an idea of how the major river systems of India emanate from the Himalayas, traverse the vast expanse of land, and finally merge into the watery expanse! It is this interconnectedness that this year’s participants at VoW will discover through structure discussions, as well as a curated display of maps, books, manuscripts, artefacts and memorabilia!

To be continued next week

(Sanjeev Chopra superannuated as the Director of the LBS National Academy of Administration after thirty-six years in the IAS. He is now the Festival Director of Valley of Words (VoW) and a Visiting Professor of History, Public Policy and Knowledge Management at the Swami Rama Himalayan University, Dehradun.  He has held the Hubert H Humphrey, Robert S McNamara, Twenty First Century Trust and the Royal Asiatic Society Fellowship)