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Women’s shelter, baarat ghar — or locked up: What’s befallen Delhi’s Hardayal libraries | Delhi News


One a shelter for women, another a makeshift wedding venue, many more locked up and gathering dust — this is the fate that has befallen most of the 32 branches of the Hardayal Municipal Public Library in Delhi. At two libraries that are open and seemingly functional, it is their patrons — students preparing for competition exams — who virtually run them.

Funded by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), these once vibrant hubs of learning have been languishing in neglect for several years with little to no upkeep. At the heart of the crisis is a lack of funds — for the libraries as well as their staff, who have not been paid for years. As a result, six branches are permanently closed while 12 others, according to documents accessed from the library’s head office in Chandni Chowk, are marked temporarily closed, The Indian Express has learnt.

The first — and the oldest — one is located in the heart of Chandni Chowk. Established in 1862 as a British reading room, it was later renamed after freedom fighter and member of the Gadar Party, Lala Har Dayal Mathur. Last year, due to a shortage of funds, the library had no electricity for nearly four months, forcing students to study in the dark.

Library branches at Azad Market Library branches at Azad Market

How did these libraries first come about?

According to MM Chandra’s ‘Swarn Itihas ke 154 Warsh’, the beginning of the library movement in Delhi can be traced back to the establishment of the Delhi Public Library in 1951 which was initiated as a UNESCO project. As the years passed, more branches popped up all over the city, said Chandra in his book. It was during this time that the many Hardayal libraries were opened.

Rajender Singh Yadav, librarian at the main library, said, “More branches were opened as and when the demand for them started increasing… the last branch was established in West Patel Nagar as recently as 2022.”

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Shankar Gali, which now houses a DUSIB shelter on the first floor Shankar Gali, which now houses a DUSIB shelter on the first floor

A sorry state

When The Indian Express visited 15 branches of Hardayal library, it found that 13 of them were either poorly maintained or locked. Only two were functional.

Daryaganj, near Golcha Cinema: Opened in 1946, this branch has been non-functional for the last three years, despite being marked as functioning in documents. “Locals used to once visit the library to read newspapers and magazines but due to the fund crunch, it is mostly closed now,” said Rajdhani, who owns a grocery store next door.

The exterior, meanwhile, painted in the colours of the Indian Flag during the G20 Summit, belies the condition inside — bereft of books, the walls bore signs of neglect and decay, the tables and chairs were dusty, and the second floor was a jumbled mess of broken furniture pieces.

In the absence of a librarian, Nitin Kumar, a safai karamchari operates it now. He said, “More than nine newspapers in Hindi, Urdu and English used to be available at the library once… residents still come here asking for newspapers but nothing is available now.”

Azad Market, Library Road: A rusty board bearing the library’s name hangs on a weathered building, which has been non-functional for the past five years. The entry gate was encroached upon by shop owners of the market that is famous for wholesale canvas and tarpaulin products. Looking past the neglect, one can faintly see the intricate teal-coloured wooden detailing — with many pieces now missing.

Shyam Dhingra, a business owner in the area, said, “As an avid reader, I was a regular visitor to the library. This branch dates back decades, even my father grew up studying here. It’s been closed for years now… the library operator sometimes visits to check on it.”

The library at Mayur Vihar The library at Mayur Vihar

Shankar Gali, Old Delhi’s Kalyanpura: At this branch, a rusty board hung crookedly, its once-bold text faded. The ground floor of the building had one table, eight chairs, and an empty book rack — all blanketed by a thick layer of dust. “We have 1,200 books but they are currently locked elsewhere. Due to lack of funds, we are unable to order magazines and newspapers,” said Asha, the library operator.

While the library once used to occupy two floors, the first floor is now being used as a DUSIB women’s shelter. “It’s been closed for the last 20 years,” said Mobin, a resident.

Shalimar Bagh: The library was found locked, with residents claiming the premises was being used as a Baraat Ghar. “It’s been a year and a half since the building was emptied of its books and sent to an office in Rohini. The guards visit occasionally but it is not being used as a library anymore but a Baarat Ghar instead… the last wedding took place a week ago,” claimed Rohit, who runs a pav bhaji stall outside.

The library board has not been removed and the building sports a picture of Hardayal.

The Daryaganj branch which has been non-functional for 3 yrs. The Daryaganj branch which has been non-functional for 3 yrs.

West Gorakh Park, inside an MCD community centre: Devoid of any books, shelves and furniture, the library had many missing window panes and paan stains on its walls. Empty alcohol bottles also littered the premises. “In the absence of a night security guard at the community centre, we’ve seen break-ins and thefts of valuables housed in the library,” said Atul, a staff member at the centre.

Mayor’s House, Lancer Road, Timarpur: A library used to once exist on the premises. “But it has been closed for 10 years now… there was talk to shift the library elsewhere but we have not got an update on the proposal,” said a staff member at the Mayor’s house on condition of anonymity. Meanwhile, it is marked as ‘temporarily closed’ in documents.

MCD Primary School, Mehrauli Dargah: This branch was locked. Fruit sellers outside said the operator visits for two hours daily but otherwise, it’s mostly closed.

Malviya Nagar: “The library inside the community centre has been non-functional for the last five years,” said Niraj Kumar, who owns a shop in front of the centre in Malviya Nagar Old Market.

The Daryaganj branch which has been non-functional for 3 yrs. The Daryaganj branch which has been non-functional for 3 yrs.

Community centre near Bhalswa landfill: According to area residents, the library once operated within the centre but has remained shut for several years.

Community centre, Mayur Vihar Ph II: The facility was in better shape than its counterparts with proper desks and chairs — occupied by over 80 students engrossed in their books. For students like Vanshika Sharma, who make up most of the clientele, the library is a blessing in disguise. “We are preparing for competitive exams and the library provides a great space to study without distraction… while it lacks drinking water and newspapers or magazines, it is open every day.”

Explaining how the facility operates solely due to the students, library operator Lilly Kutti Somwal said, “It was briefly closed after workers protested over their unpaid salaries. The students then complained to the head office after which we had handed over the keys to the students themselves… the library continued functioning because the students would open and close it on their own.”

Brahmpuri: A double-storey library, it was functioning despite the absence of any staff. Here too, there were desks and chairs and longer tables, occupied mostly by students. “The library operator visits to unlock the facility at 8 am and then to lock it around 8 pm… during this time, we study here,” said students at the library who were preparing for competitive exams.

This branch too was closed after workers went on a strike, but it was unlocked after students wrote to the head office pleading with them to reopen the facility.

Rahul, a student, however, pointed to the lack of amenities at the library. “The washrooms are dirty and smelly. There has been no drinking water after a water cooler was stolen from the second floor a year ago.”

But many students emphasised that it provides them with a good place to study peacefully. Some had even used the walls to stick notes or hang charts. “It’s always better to sit in groups while preparing for competitive exams because if we have any doubts, then we can discuss them with others and teach each other,” Saloni, a student, said.

Other branches inside MCD community centres at Mayur Vihar Pocket F, Rohini Sector 13, Ramesh Nagar, Jahangirpuri and Majnu Ka Tila were inaccessible as the doors of the centres were locked. Residents too were unaware of their existence.

Behind the crisis

For the last 35 months, employees — from book cleaners, sanitation workers, and library operators — of the various branches have been sitting on dharna as their salaries have not been paid since 2021. On February 14, on the directions of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, the MCD released salaries of 96 employees due for five months of 2021; salaries for the remaining 30 months remain pending. Addressing the staff, Kejriwal had said, “A provision has been made for your salaries for the remaining period and it will be released soon…”

At the core of the issue was a political tussle between AAP and BJP over the elections to the library’s managing body.

Last April, MCD Mayor Shelly Oberoi had committed to paying the library staff. A verification committee was also formed for salary distribution. The civic body had stated the committee would submit a report in 15 days; which did not materialise.

Meanwhile, at the MCD’s monthly house meeting on August 31, 2023, a motion was approved to establish a new managing body for the library, as the term of the current one selected during the BJP’s MCD tenure had come to an end. On October 31 last year, Oberoi — who also serves as the library’s ex-officio chairperson — appointed six of the 11 new members of the management committee. Preeti (who goes by one name), an AAP councillor from Dilshad Colony, was named the committee’s secretary.

When contacted for comment, Preeti said, “We are still solving issues at the main heritage library in Gandhi Maidan… I will start visiting other branches to check what can be done to improve them and ensure they are functioning once again.”

Recently, the MCD released a Rs 2.2 crore grant for the library — most of it was used to pay pending electricity bills and the 5-month salaries of employees. A grant of Rs 8.5 crore is still due.

However, according to the minutes of a recent managing committee meeting, they are now planning to close all branches that are non-functional. It is also going to hire more employees, for which there is a plan to set a degree in library sciences as an eligibility criterion. To improve the main library building, solar panels will be installed to meet the electricity needs.

“The CM is personally invested in improving the condition of the libraries because they are heritage buildings… at the moment, many libraries are not functional and instead they are being used by employees and guards to stay; these issues will be rectified soon,” AAP sources said.





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