New Delhi : The day of 24 January 1950 in Delhi was a bit wet. Light showers of rain had mixed a little too much cold in the air. In this cold weather, the members of the Constituent Assembly were waiting for the proceedings of the last meeting to begin at 11 am in the Constitution Hall (now the Central Hall) of the Parliament House. Two important agendas were to be discussed in this meeting of the Constituent Assembly. First- the election of the President of India, which remained a formal process as Dr. Rajendra Prasad was the only candidate for the post. The second agenda was a little too personal. On that day every member of the Constituent Assembly had to sign the document which would guide the future of independent India. That document was the Constitution of India.
The original constitution is kept in the library of the Parliament
The members of the Constituent Assembly signed three copies of the Constitution. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had to leave the meeting early, so he signed first and Dr. Rajendra Prasad last. Of the three copies of the Constitution that were put up for signature, one was published in the English language while two copies were handwritten by experts. One copy was in Hindi while the other was in English. The artists of Santiniketan also decorated every page of these two handwritten copies of the Indian Constitution with great fervor. These have been kept in the library of the Parliament, which has a great responsibility to preserve this great wealth of the nation. Their conservation is very important as both these copies are somewhat damaged due to environmental reasons. The ink and color have faded. Airborne pollution particles and contact with insects and insects can cause irreparable damage to the paper.
Egyptian mummies and our constitution have a connection, The Indian Parliament and the Egyptian government began to consider conservation methods in the mid-1980s. The Indian parliament wanted handwritten copies of the constitution while the Egyptian government wanted to preserve the 27 mummies of the ancient dynasty. In this search, the Egyptian government reached the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) in America. Dr. Shin Maekawa, a Japanese-born American citizen, led the project designing a storage and display case for mummies. Engineer-trained Dr. Maekawa had worked in a NASA authorized Jet Propulsion Lab before joining GCI. He set strict standards for designing oxygen-free cases for those royal mummies. And when the design was ready, it became very easy to make boxes based on it. The maintenance of those boxes was also not difficult and the cost was also not high.
Concerns about the protection of the original constitution
On the other hand, the Parliament of India turned to the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) in Delhi for the purpose of preparing a case to keep the Constitution. NPL scientist Dr. Hari Kishan took over the responsibility of this project who later became the head of Quantum Phenomena and Applications Division of NPL. Dr. Kishan succeeded to some extent in preparing a glass box with great effort. But a problem remained, how to seal the sides of the box so that it would be oxygen proof. To answer this, he went to France where he came to know about the making of similar boxes for Egyptian mummies in America.
Copies of the original constitution are safe for 73 years
Dr. Maekawa and the team at GCI created a display case that only minimal amounts of oxygen could enter. In the year 1993, the GCI and the NPL entered into an agreement to fulfill the need to preserve the Constitution. A year later, the GCI shipped a display case each for both Hindi and English copies of the handwritten constitution from the US to India. After a year of testing, in the year 1995, copies of the constitution were kept in the same display case filled with nitrogen. Since then the scientists of NPL have been examining both the display cases on an annual basis.
The real protection of the constitution will be in our hearts only.
Dr. Shin Maekawa and Dr. Hari Kishan’s diligently prepared handwritten constitution 73 years ago, both copies of the constitution were preserved for the next generations. This was done to protect the physical nature of the constitution, but the real protection of the constitution must be done by every Indian in their hearts. As former Supreme Court judge Justice HR Khanna wrote, “The Constitution is not just a bundle of papers, it is a way of life.” Continuous monitoring is the price of freedom and ultimately its sole custodian is the common man. Judge Justice HR Khanna, at the time of the declaration of emergency in the country by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, in these words, had declared the freedom of citizens as paramount.
[Attribution to NBT]