Millennium Post

Recovering lost art of bookhunting

The ongoing tussle between the Delhi government and the municipal corporations to provide funds for more than 10 library-cum-reading rooms in Delhi has forced their care-takers to shut decade-old libraries in the national Capital. The cash-strapped libraries which were running with government assistance have been deprived of financial aid since the last four years. What is worse is that these libraries, run by private bodies, are not in a position to bear the cost of maintenance of thousands of books kept in them, not even to pay salaries to their staff. The libraries’ staff claim that the municipal corporation which is authorised to provide fund and  grants are not paying heed to their need while the corporation officials rue that they are helpless as they are not getting money from the state government for this purpose. Among them, some of the libraries had historical significance where a number of freedom fighters used to meet before and after the freedom struggle.

The libraries which were opened and patronised by the freedom fighters are gathering dust these days. The caretakers claim that they are not able to meet the running cost and are planning to close them down  in near future. “We have been running libraries with the help of local organisations. As public donations are the only source to ensure upkeep and maintenance, we are facing hardships to run them properly. The corporations, which are authorised to provide financial assistance have stopped releasing funds since trifurcation of the MCD. The corporations are passing the buck on the state government claiming that they are not receiving money for this purpose,” said Nem Chand Jain, care taker of one of the libraries and Councillor of the north MCD.

Talking about the historical value, Jain said that few of the libraries, located in Central Delhi area, are more than 90 years old but are dying due to fund crunch. He claimed that most of the libraries, which have more than 50,000 old books along with daily newspapers and study materials, attract a large number of youth especially school-going children. “People used to visit these centres for the purpose of learning  but their number is decreasing gradually. They want books and magazines on recent topics which we are unable to purchase. Apart from this, we are also not able to maintain old books due to high cost” he said.

A physical survey of these libraries also revealed the sordid state of affair and helplessness of private bodies to run them. Arya Kumar Sabha, Marwari Samajik Pustakalaya, Rachna Path, Sri Jain public library, Swami Ram Tirath Mission library and reading room and Sri Mahavir Jain Public library and reading room are some of them  in  severe financial crisis due to withdrawal of fund by the 
north Corporation.

Mahavir Jain Public Library and reading room was opened by some freedom fighters and in a short span of time it became a key destination of eminent persons. In almost 10 years of its inauguration, it was visited by Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel, Pt Jawahar Lal Nehru, C. Rajgopalachari, Dr Rajendra Prasad, Kasturba Gandhi, Sarojni Naidu, Jaiprakash Narayan, Aruna Asaf Ali, Ghanshyam Das Bidla, and scores of other dignitaries on various occasions. The library was also known for the meeting place of leaders before the freedom movement. These leaders not only gathered here, but also put their best effort to make the library a hub of rare books. Visits by dignitaries was a common 
phenomena after Independence and continued till the 90s.

The President of the library, Fateh Chand Soni, claimes that it requires more than Rs 10 lakh per year for upkeep and maintenance, north MCD was paying just five lakh and the remaining expense was borne by the Jain society. But since 2012, the civic agency has stopped releasing fund claiming that the state government is not allocating money in this regard. “We are in crisis as the MCD is not giving us grants. As we have a collection of rare books which are more than 500 years old, it requires adequate fund to maintain them properly and to safeguard them. Apart from this, there is a need to purchase new books to attract new readers but we are helpless. It is very unfortunate that a library 
which has a significant historical background is on verge of closure due to apathy of municipal bodies.

The MCD officials, however, said that they are not getting fund from the top authority for library 
purpose hence they have postponed it. The MCDs are promoting their own libraries and money is required for them also. “It’s true that we have cut the funds. The fact is that we release money when we get from the government and in case of private libraries, we are not getting any allocation. Once the government will allocate money for this purpose, we will release accordingly,” said an MCD official. 
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