A South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) museum, envisaged by India in 2005 to reflect the living tradition of member nations, is yet to take off, even though the government has already spent over Rs 18 crore on the project, according to a Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report tabled in Parliament earlier this week.
The CAG has come down heavily on Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) for not being able to complete the project in time.
The Saarc Museum of Textiles and Handicrafts was proposed by India during a summit held at Dhaka in November 2005 to preserve various crafts and related traditions, train artisans and crafts persons, foster design skills, hold promotional events and undertake research.
The museum was to be established on the lines of Saarc Regional Centres where the capital costs are borne by the host country and the operational costs are shared by all the member states.
In the first inter-governmental meeting of Saarc in February 2007, it was decided that the museum will be established in India and in the second meeting; Dilli Haat, Pitampura (Delhi) was decided as the venue for the museum.
After the approval, MEA leased the space for the museum from Delhi Tourism and Transportation Development Corporation (DTTDC) in November 2009, for which it paid rent of Rs 15.59 crore for two exhibition halls in January 2010 upfront. India’s share of the maintenance charges was Rs 4.74 crore for the subsequent 13 years and the project cost was Rs 25.18 crore.
CAG said the design of museum was circulated to all Saarc member nations—Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Maldives and Nepal.
A public sector unit—Handicrafts and Handlooms Export Corporation of India Limited (HHEC)—was selected as the implementing agency for setting up, developing, managing and maintaining the halls for the museum at a total cost of Rs 4.85 crore, for which an advance of Rs 50 lakh was released in March 2013.
According to CAG, the museum was expected to be operational from March 31, 2015.
Till September 2019, MEA had already released Rs 18.87 crore for the museum, which included Rs 13.88 core to DTTDC for lease rent and Rs 4.59 crore to HHEC for development of the museum, according to the CAG report.
“Though the Museum Project was to be completed by 30 March 2015 and made operational by 31 March 2015, the project is still not complete and operational as of December 2019,” CAG added.
“…deficient systemic approach in monitoring of the project by MEA resulted in non-completion of the project of establishment of SAARC Museum which was envisaged as a vibrant centre reflecting the living tradition of the Saarc and to provide a catalyst approach to the SAARC preferential trading agreement process despite incurring an expenditure of Rs 18.47 crore and a delay of over 10 years,” CAG said.
The ministry informed the CAG during the audit that the project is stuck as ministry of textiles is contemplating the closure of HHEC.