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It is a shame that some 30,000 books of the Mantralaya library in Mumbai have been dumped into a godown. Clearly, the government cares more for motor cars than books. It has no space for books but proposes to build a car park under Mantralaya to park 700 cars at a cost of Rs. 70 crores.

Besides, the move totally contradicts its own claim that the proposed Metro railway will substantially reduce car dependence in the metropolis. A metro railway station is due to come up at Vidhan Bhavan just a few feet from Mantralaya.

If the Metro can take you anywhere in minutes as claimed by Amitabh Bachhan in a video ad, why go for such expensive car parking ?

Also, in complete violation of law, the Maharashtra government has dumped lakhs of books of the Central library into a godown depriving people of their right to access free every book published in India . Perhaps it should not come as too big a surprise in an era when knowledge and scientific outlook are derided and falsehood is glorified by those in power.

The Mantralaya library was of heritage value. I used to be a member and I still retain the membership card. This library and another one of the Indian institute of public administration used to be on the ground floor of Mantralaya.

These were shifted following the fire in the Mantralaya building in 2012 which caused extensive damage, killed 3 people and injured 15.The library of the IIPA has been restored but the much more precious government owned library is not.

The books have been dumped elsewhere to make way for another office. This brings us to another point. The Maharashtra government and the civic body have shown a scandalous disregard for land and space.

They have given away acres and acres of government land to dubious organisations and now they are desperately short of space for their own projects. That is why we find the shameful spectacle of public space being invaded , people being robbed of access to these spaces, for Metro rail project, vehicle testing tracks and others.

Mantralaya bureaucrats should realise that there is valuable source material in the library which is not available on the internet.

Also shameful is the state of the library of the municipal corporation in Mumbai. There is a conspicuous absence of books on Mumbai including those pertaining to the working of the BMC like the one on municipal ward function written by its former official D.A. Pinto and Marina Pinto. As also a centenary volume on the BMC in Marathi edited by Bal Samant, Marathi writer who was close to Bal Thackeray. I have both these publications .Since the new chief minister’s grandfather Prabodhankar was a lover of books, one hopes Mr Uddhav Thackeray will revive the libraries.

Part of the reason for this disgraceful state is the fact that few of the worthies in power care to read. I have been going also to the Council hall library and the Yashwantrao Chavan Centre library for the last several years and have only occasionally seen politicians there.Also severely neglected is the Mumbai Marathi Granth Sangrahalaya library in Dadar which has rare books and other source material on Marathi literature and the cultural life of Maharashtra.It is a precious non-government run library. It is dedicated individuals who are preserving the reading culture. Dr Anand Joshi, a member of the Asiatic library for decades, has donated Rs. One lakh to the library.
And there are several others including academics like Arun Banerjee Mani Kamerkar and Dr L.B. Kenny who have made donations to the library from their savings.

Similarly there are people all over who are helping in other institutions. . It is the government establishment that is failing us badly.

It is in keeping with government thinking that the imposing , nearly 180 year old Town Hall in Mumbai was beautifully renovated and painted recently at much cost and after work for nearly two years when the dust and debris had made it difficult to enter the Asiatic society library.
The governor holds the Independence day reception in the Town Hall. That is the only time and then a few cultural evens on the steps of the Town Hall when our upper class flocks to this place which is the earliest , major colonial buildings in Mumbai.

The government has shown some concern for the Asiatic library in the premises but most books of the Central library have been shifted elsewhere and dumped as in the case of the Mantralaya library.

Unfortunately our upper class and our own politicians and bureaucracy do not seem to realize that there is much more to life than indulging in cosmetic exercises .

We care for facades and spectacles but we do not realize that the soul is missing. So we do not realize that the Maharashtra government is failing in its duty, its legal obligation to give us free access to every book published in India. This is happening because the Central library is not in place and the government itself does not have a proper record of its own books.These are scattered in different places, some in the basement of the Town hall, some in Mulund, Andheri and Thane.

The Central library, or whatever passes in its name, is run by the state government, has a small office near the directorate of libraries in the Town Hall but it is hidden in a corner while the Central library should have had its own building and it should have been one of the landmarks of the city.

The government had saddled the Asiatic library with running of the Central library for several years. After much struggle the Asiatic , independelty run through voluntary effort, managed to separate itself around 1994. Since then the Central library has become an orphan when it should have been the pride of the city, the state.

The state government constantly prides itself on how India is becoming digitalized but the Central library does not even have a website. If you search for it, all you get is the central library of IIT, Mumbai. One sees a mention of the central library only on the website of the state directorate of libraries. Its books are not digitalized. I don’t think anyone can tell you which book is in which building.

It is not only the government’s unforgivable neglect for many years, the more regrettable part is that the issue is never even a talking point at any academic or similar gathering. Even in the Asiatic library, where I go frequently, there is little cognizance of the issue.

We are happy with Asiatic and other libraries, we have access to them but what about the denial of a free facility to the vast mass of people whose right it is to get it. Since the government does not have enough space for books for the library, it is not getting the free books the publishers are supposed to send it.

The massive corruption involved in the construction of the central library at Kalina seems to have been forgotten . Besides, few realise how crucial a role the central library library can play in educating the mases. Also,no one now knows the fate of the library in Kalina. What is happening to the building constructed for the library ?

Three other major metropolitan centres have their functioning central libraries, Delhi has its Public library, near Old Delhi railway station, it is quite large and even has the Amir Khusrau auditorium, Kolkata has its famous Central library and Chennai has the Coromandel. Chennai in fact has another big Anna library created by the state government in 2010 at a cost of Rs 172 crore in memory of former chief minister C.N. Annadurai. It is a modern 9 storey building with all amenities on 9 acres of land in Kotturpuram area. It has over three lakh books and has bought a huge stock from the Cambridge university press. Hillary Clinton lauded it during a visit in 2011. One floor is stocked entirely with Tamil books. Students queue from the morning to read there. Should this not be embarrassing for a state like Maharashtra which prides itself on its intellectual achievements ?

Jayalalitha, former chief minister, made an unsuccessful attempt to shift the library elsewhere and use the premises for a superspeciality hospital. She gave up after a hue and cry and Mr Karunanidhi, former chief minister, threatened to burn himself in protest.

The Maharashtra government has also failed to construct a building to house the rich archives, historical records from the times of Shivaji and the East India company. The archives are housed in the 19th century Elphinstone college premises and the old records clearly need new, spacious, air conditioned premises. It shows how much the politicians care about history even while they exploit old heroes for politics.

Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of a book on public transport


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