The genesis of the National Archives of India may be traced back to the year 1860 when Sandeman, the Civil Auditor, in his report stressed the need of relieving the offices of congestion by destruction of the papers of routine nature and transfer of all valuable records to a ‘Grand Central Archive’. However, things took a concrete shape in 1889, when Professor G.W. Forrest of Elphinstone College, Bombay was entrusted the job of examining the records of the Foreign Department of the Government of India. Earlier, he had earned reputation as an Archivist for his work in the Bombay Records Office. In his report, he made a strong plea for transferring all records of the administration of East India Company to a Central Repository. As a result, Imperial Records Department (IRD) came into existence on 11 March 1891 which was located in Imperial Secretariat Building at Calcutta (Kolkata). Professor G.W Forrest was made its Officer in Charge. His main task was to examine, transfer, arrange and catalogue records of all the Departments and to organise a Central Library in place of various Departmental Libraries. After G.W. Forrest, the work at Imperial Records Department (IRD) progressed well under S.C. Hill (1900), C.R. Wilson (1902), N.L. Hallward (1904), E. Denison Ross (1905), A.F. Scholfield (1915), R.A. Blaker (1919), J.M. Mitra (1920) and Rai Bahadur A.F.M. Abdul Ali (1922-1938) who were scholars as well as Records Keepers in their own right.
Subsequent to the transfer from Calcutta (Kolkata) to New Delhi in 1911, the Imperial Records Department (IRD) shifted to the present building in 1926. After independence, the IRD was rechristened as the National Archives of India and the Head of the Organisation was designated as Director of Archives from Keeper of Records. Dr. S.N. Sen, who succeeded A.F.M. Abdul Ali and held office till 1949, gave an overall orientation to the activities of Imperial/ Records Department/ National Archives of India. For the first time, records were thrown open for bonafide research in 1939 and by 1947 all pre 1902 records were available for consultation. A Conservation Research Laboratory (CRL) was established in 1940 to conduct research into problems relating to conservation which was Dr Sen’s visionary contribution. Training in Archives Keeping was introduced in 1941 and in 1944, a scheme of Post War Re-organisation of Archives offices in India was laid down by the Indian Historical Records Commission. In 1947, the Departmental Journal, The Indian Archives came into existence; which contained research papers on source material of modern Indian history, conservation of documents, records-management, reprographics, archival awareness and all other allied aspects of functional archives.
Thus, the National Archives of India marched towards the path of progress after independence to play a more dynamic and inspiring role in the archival field of the entire country. It has witnessed manifold expansion of its activities since then in the field of accession of public records, acquisition of private papers/ collections and library material, records management, research and reference, publication, training, conservation, reprography, digitilization outreach programmes, coordination at national and international level and expansion of office at regional level. The Department witnessed further impetus to its status in June 1990 when the office of the Director of Archives was re designated as Director General of Archives. At present National Archives of India is an attached office under the Ministry of Culture and has a Regional Office at Bhopal and three Records Centres at Jaipur, Puducherry and Bhubaneswar.
In March 2015, the department completed 125 years of its existence.
To celebrate this important landmark in the history of the National Archives of India and with a view to bring the archives closer to its users and public at large, year-long celebrations were planned beginning from the 125th Foundation Day on 11 March 2015.
The entire year was utilized as an opportunity to achieve significant development and growth in the history of NAI in terms of outreach, digitization, branding initiatives and access. Steered and monitored by the Implementation Committee, the year 2016 witnessed significant achievements in all fields, and across all centres, imbued with a renewed sense of purpose.
A brochure was released on 7 March 2016,detailing the activities taken up by the various departments/regional centres of the department.