ZSI During Pre-Independence Period
The annals of Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) reflect an eventful beginning for the Survey even before its formal birth and growth. The history of ZSI begins from the days of the Asiatic Society of Bengal founded by Sir William Jones on 15th January, 1784. The Asiatic Society of Bengal was the mother institution not only to the Indian Museum (1875) but also to the institutions like the Zoological Survey of India and the Geological Survey of India. ZSI’s establishment was in fact a fulfilment of the dream of Sir William Jones, the founder of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, whose vision encompassed the entire range of human knowledge. The Asiatic Society had started collecting zoological and geological specimens since 1796 and set up a museum in 1814. Dr. Nathaniel Wallich, the first Superintendent of the “Museum of the Asiatic Society”, was in charge of the increasing collections of Geological and Zoological specimens; he had augmented the animal collections to the Zoological Galleries of the Museum.
The genesis of Zoological Survey of India was in 1875 with the opening of the Indian Museum. The new museum on its inception comprised only three sections: the Zoological, the Archaeological and the Geological. The zoological collections of the Asiatic Society of Bengal were formally handed over to the Board of Trustees of the Indian Museum in 1875.
Zoological Section of the Museum during the period from 1875 to 1916 steadily expanded, growing to the greatest collection of natural history in Asia. By the care and activity of the Curators of the Asiatic society of Bengal and the Superintendents of the Indian Museum, viz., McClelland, Blyth, John Anderson, James Woodmason, Alfred William Alcock and finally Thomas Nelson Annandale and his colleagues, the museum was richly endowed with a magnificent collection of animals, especially of the larger vertebrate groups. Further additions of both land and aquatic fauna to the valuable collections came through during several political and military expeditions, including a number of collections purchased, notably those of Francis Day of Indian Fishes, Lionel de Niceville of butterflies, Dudgeon and Green of moths, van de Poll of beetles and Godwin Austen of mollusks.
The Zoological Gallery at the Asiatic society Museum under the care and charge of Dr. Nathaniel Wallich served the impetus for the formation of the Zoological Survey of India, which was later born as an independent organization on 1st July, 1916. The excerpt from the ‘Constitution of the Zoological Survey of India’, released by the Government of India, Department of Education, Resolution no. 19-Museum, dated Simla, the 20th June 1916, states: “In March 1913, the Chairman of the Trustees of the Indian Museum forwarded a representation from the Superintendent of the Zoological and Anthropological Section of the Museum regarding the recognition of the Zoological Section as Zoological Survey. The Government of India, who had already under consideration the desirability of establishing on a sound basis a Zoological Survey of India, informed the Trustees of the Museum that they would be prepared to consider a scheme for such a survey on lines somewhat similar to the existing Botanical Survey of India and asked to furnish with the necessary details. The trustees accordingly submitted their proposals at the end of September 1913.”
Dr. Thomas Nelson Annandale, who joined the Indian museum as Deputy Superintendent (1904), and later as the Superintendent (1907), after years-old struggle, achieved his aim in establishing the Zoological survey of India, and became its founder Director and continued till his premature death in April 1924. Dr. Annandale was Honorary Secretary to the Trustees of the Indian Museum for several years; he was also the President of the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1923.
National Zoological Collection: The Survey acquired the zoological collections of more than a century old from the former museum of the Asiatic Society of Bengal and the zoological section of the Indian museum (1814-1875) in Calcutta. Zoological Survey of India thus became the custodian of the collections of zoological specimens of the Indian subcontinent, stocking and safeguarding the collections from India, Srilanka, Myanmar, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan.
The United Kingdom tried to carry all the zoological specimens to British Museum (despite having with them, already, a huge Indian collection), staking that these collections were from the erstwhile ‘British Indian Empire’. Britain was of the view that the infrastructure of the newly born ZSI, and such institutes of the other countries in the subcontinent, will not be able to care, preserve and maintain the hundreds of thousands of zoological specimens preserved in Spirit/Alcohol, or Formalin.
When the claim for the collections became intense, Late Dr. S. L. Hora was, then, the Director of ZSI (as well holding the post of the Director of Fisheries of West Bengal). By virtue of his position, he was the Advisor, on zoological matters, to the hon’ble First Prime Minister of India, Late, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru.
To combat the claim and right for the specimens by the other countries, Dr. Hora was able to convince the Govt. of India to declare the ZSI collections as “National Zoological Collection”. Dr. Hora submitted a proposal to the Govt. of India, Ministry of Scientific Research and Cultural Affairs to construct the ‘Fire-Proof-Building within the Indian Museum Campus. The building was envisaged to be made fire-proof, acting as a fire-resisting unit, so that all the spirit-preserved specimens would remain safe and protected. This move for constructing the ZSI’s own building for such a purpose was made during a period when the financial crisis of the Govt. was very acute. ZSI then had been functioning from hired accommodations, scattered at a few places in Calcutta.
The establishment of a permanent building as a proposal for reorganization and expansion of a Zoological Survey had been suggested and recommended by Lt-Col. R. B. Seymour Sewell, former Director of the Survey (England) as requested by the then Govt. of India, in the year 1945. It was a postwar development plan proposed by him shortly after the Second World War was over. He submitted the proposal in the form of a memorandum for the gradual reorganization of the Survey. The important items in the scheme included, albeit other things, a plan for a fire-proof building for the Survey at a suitable place.
ZSI during Post-Independence Period
Although Dr. Sewell’s proposal, which had been prepared in pre-partitioned India, could not be implemented for financial reasons, the scheme was suitably modified after the independence in view of the changed political and economic set up of the country. A committee, under S. L. Hora as Convener, appointed by the Govt. of India, examined the Dr. Sewell’s Scheme and made its recommendation to the Government during December 1949. The committee in its report stressed for a permanent building for the Survey.
During the First Five Year Plan (1951-52 to 1955-56), it became essential for the Government to seriously grapple the question of the reconstruction, growth and development of the Zoological Survey. After Dr. Hora, who died in harness on 8th December, 1955, Dr. Mithan Lal Roonwal was appointed Director of the Survey. Dr. Roonwal pursued the matter with the Government of India. However, the Second Five Year Plan period was rather uneventful with regard to the development of the department was concerned since no programme of expansion could be taken up. During the Third Five Year Plan (1961-62 to 1965-66), the Govt. of India in view of the biological importance of the collections, recognized the same as the “National Zoological Collection” through a gazette notification dated the 11th July, 1964.
The need for finding better accommodation for the department’s rapidly increasing collections became urgent and imperative. By 1964, the Fire Proof Spirit building (FPSB) in the Indian Museum, solely constructed for ZSI, became a reality and ready for occupation. But only three of the six floors of the newly built FPSB, Kolkata, were occupied by the Zoological Survey of India in 1965. The Freshwater and Marine Fish Sections, Amphibia Section, Reptilia Section, Crustacea Section, General Non-Chordata Section, and Museum and Taxidermy Section of the Survey were shifted to FPSB.
The Fire Proof Spirit Building, as its name indicates, was constructed exclusively for the Zoological Survey of India with the idea of protecting the invaluable, registered “National Zoological Collection” preserved in rectified spirit/alcohol. The building was made fire-proof, acting as a fire-resisting unit, so that all the spirit-preserved specimens would remain safe and protected.
In the post independence period, in April 1955 the Govt. of India called a conference of eminent zoologists to suggest a programme for the development of the Zoological Survey of India under the Second Five-Year Plan. The necessity for having the headquarters of the Survey in a suitable central place in India was also realized and the recommendation was taken up for consideration.
The recommendations made by the Conference were later fructified in the form of further development of the Survey. The activities of the survey, both as a bureau of systematic zoology and a centre of training in higher specialized research in zoology increased steadly. The scientific and technical activities of the department, viz., field surveys,, research, development of the National zoological collections, identification and advisory service, maintenance of the Zoological Galleries of the Indian museum, etc., were augmented. The department was being constantly referred to by other scientific departments and institutions and the general public in connection with zoological, biological and allied problems.
The expansion cum developmental programmes of the Survey was in continuum with the increasing interest in life sciences and with the advent of country’s Five-Year Plans. The Survey has so far established sixteen Regional Centres in different parts of the country, and has developed into a major National Institution. It functions as the custodian, rather guardian, of the National zoological Collections, containing over a million identified specimens from all animal groups, from Protozoa to Mammals. Both Extensive and intensive field explorations and expeditions are undertaken by the Survey in different parts of the country — in diverse ecosystems, Conservation Areas, biodiversity ‘hotspots’, etc. — for the studies of land and marine fauna, systematic zoology, animal ecology, wildlife, zoogeography, animal behaviour, animal population.
Ever-increasing collections and inadequate space to house them made it imperative for the Survey to have its own permanent building. It became a reality when its scientific/administrative building at New Alipore came into being in 1987. The assets of the Survey: huge lots of zoological dry-collections, which were being cared in different hired buildings, ZSI Library from the Indian Museum building, Kolkata, and the Publication Division from Nizam Palace, Kolkata, were shifted to the new building.
The Govt. of India in 1987 made a critical review of ZSI’s activities in order to clearly redefine its objectives and delineate its perspectives, and also to spell out the strategy for realization of the various objectives. A meeting of the eminent Zoologists of the country was held at New Delhi during July 1987. Some of the relevant issues were also considered by the Joint Programme Advisory Committee set up to advise on scientific activities of ZSI and BSI. Based on the recommendations of these different committees / forums, the Govt. of India decided to redefine the objectives of ZSI. These objectives, classified into Primary and Secondary Objectives, included:
- Exploration and Survey of Faunal Resources
- Taxonomic Studies
- Status Survey of Endangered species
- Publication of Results through Departmental Journals
- Publication of Fauna of India
- Maintenance and Development of National Zoological collections
- Maintenance of Museums at Headquarters and Regional Centres;
- Environmental Impact assessment Studies wherever specially asked for by the ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.
One exciting achievement during the recent years was the inclusion of a scientist from Zoological Survey of India in the teams for the expeditions to Antarctica from 1989 onwards. ZSI also streamlined the procedure for the participation of ZSI scientific workers at National and international Conferences which had helped in projecting its best talents. The institution also encouraged its scientists in dissemination of knowledge by setting up new trends in training programs, holding scholarly scientific lectures. A clear-cut publication policy, with priorities defined, was also initiated. All the scientific assignments of the Survey are now being closely monitored at phased intervals, by various committees, envisioned with a focus on realistic progress and significant achievements.
Efforts have been made in recent times towards an integrated approach to zoological investigations so as to have a more purpose-oriented research incorporating biological, ecological and ethological aspects. Despite the inclusion of other areas of research in the institution’s programme, taxonomy continues to occupy a prominent role. However, the morphology-based classical taxonomy, the crux of scientific research of the Survey, has further been supported with the high-end, modern tools of molecular taxonomy, viz., DNA Fingerprinting Techniques, for improving the quality and scope of the taxonomic research of the institution.