Machines that printed Constitution sold as scrap

As India’s founding document, the Constitution of India, turns 70 this Republic Day, the Dehradun-based Survey of India which printed 1,000 initial photolithographic reproductions of the handcrafted Constitution has preserved one of those copies, but it sold the two machines that produced those last year. As scrap. For ~1.5 lakh.

As for the lithographic plates, they were also “auctioned to scrap dealers long ago”, Survey of India (SoI) officials said.

The two printing machines, the Sovereign and Monarch models manufactured by UK’s RW Crabtree & Sons, used to print the first copies of the Indian Constitution, were dismantled and sold last year, the officials added. A visit to the facility could only unearth a lubrication schedule for the Monarch on one of the walls.

The 1,000 copies were printed in SoI’s Northern Printing Group office located in Hathibarkala area of Dehradun, from the two original handwritten copies, using lithograph printing . Calligrapher Prem Behari Narain Raizada (Saxena) wrote the Constitution in English and Vasant Krishna Vaidya wrote it in Hindi. The handwritten copies were illustrated by artists Nandalal Bose, Beohar Rammanohar Sinha, and other artists from Santiniketan.

The first printed copy was hardbound and is safe in a cupboard of the Northern Printing Division.

However, Lt Gen Girish Kumar (retd), Surveyor General of India, said that the cost of maintaining the two lithographic printing machines was very high and the technology was outdated. He added that the machines were dismantled and auctioned at scrap value. HT could not access the details of the buyers.

“Nowadays with this [current] technology you just cannot use those machines because they are very expensive in working… We definitely take pride in being the premier institution to have printed the first thousand copies of the Indian Constitution, and understand the historical importance of it, but these machines were very big and occupied a lot of space. Also, they were old and conventional, and it took a lot of time to work on,” said Lt Gen Kumar.

He added that the Survey of India has “completed 252 years”, which means “ we have lot of historical legacy and if we start preserving everything like this, the entire department will have lot of old things”.

To be sure, he added, “we take pride in doing such historically relevant things but then we have to move on…”

However, SoI is now working on a museum for the printing division where artifacts, replicas of the machines, and photographs of historically relevant events will be kept, according to Lt Gen Kumar.

“We will be displaying similar printing machines on which Constitution was printed. Printing is not done on one specific machine, it can be done on two-three machines also. So similar machines will be on display and we will give the information along with [details of ] how the Constitution was printed using such kinds of machines,” added Kumar.

The Survey of India reprinted copies of the Constitution using the latest technology in 2003-04 and 2018, following requests from the Central government, he explained.

Describing how SoI, Dehradun, was selected for the honour of printing the Constitution, Pankaj Mishra, superintending surveyor (technical secretary), SoI, said that the project was given to the Dehradun branch because the latest printing equipment was available there in those days.

“Our Eastern Printing Group or Kolkata branch is the oldest one in the history of Survey of India; it was established sometime in the 1840s. It published India’s first postal stamp. When the matter of printing the Constitution came up, the latest printing equipment was available with the Northern Printing Group here. So, it was suggested by then senior officials that it should be printed here,” said Mishra.

Madhukar Tiwari, manager at the Northern Printing Group, said that when it came to the actual printing, eight pages were printed in one go in the lithographic printing machine and that this was then cut into single pages and stitched together.

The plates used were “auctioned to scrap dealers long ago”, he added.

“We have some of the lithographic plates made of zinc and aluminium that were used for making different types of maps, but none of the plates that were used in printing Constitution are available now. Those plates were auctioned long ago…,” said Tiwari.

Seema Bhattacharya, a senior reprographer with the Northern Printing Group, said: “The image and written material on the lithographic plate would anyway not be visible now, because being metal, the plate gets oxidised over the years due to atmospheric effects like humidity or if it comes in contact with moisture.”

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