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As rain lashed Mumbai on Monday, those working at the 180-year-old, newly-restored Asiatic Society State Central Library building were seen rushing to protect the precious books stored in it. Following the rains, water started seeping in from the walls of the structure putting the books at risk.
Rain water was seen seeping through the roof onto the walls and dripping on electrical boards, forcing the library administration to disconnect power in some of the rooms to prevent short-circuit. Water collected on the wooden floor of the library. While in some areas of the library building large gunny bags were spread on the floor to prevent the wood from getting damaged, in other parts, boxes and buckets were placed to collect drops falling from the ceiling.
The library staff members have been asked to be on alert, lest water rushes in unexpectedly, till help arrives on Tuesday.
“The problem started since Saturday. But it wasn’t bad then. Monday’s heavy rain caused water to seep in from the roof and flowing on to the walls of the building and gathering on the wooden flooring. We have spread gunny bags to minimise the damage for now. Another major concern is water getting into the electrical boards. We had to keep some of rooms in dark to prevent any mishap. We are accommodating our members in dry areas for now,” said S G Kale, president of Asiatic Society, Mumbai.
Following the second phase of restoration, the library building was inaugurated by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis in February this year. The state government’s Public Works Department undertook the renovation under the guidance of conservation architect Abha Narain Lambah. Restoration of the iconic steps of the Asiatic Society building is still underway.
The water seepage from the roof has raised many questions regarding the quality of the restoration work. “Water did leak from the roof in the monsoon in 2009 and 2010. But it should not have happened now after the restoration. Luckily, we managed to shift the books to less risky areas. But some of the books did get wet,” said a staff member.
The Asiatic Society library, also known as the Town Hall, is an iconic place in the city and houses close to three lakh books in English, Spanish, Hindi, Sanskrit, Marathi, Latin and Chinese among others. The library has a number of rare books, including Shahnama of Firdausi in Persian (1843), William Shakespeare’s First Folio (1623), Sir Walter Raleigh’s History of the World (1736), and the original Italian manuscript of Dante’s Divine Comedy (1350).
On Monday, after the library administration called up the PWD informing it about the seepage, an electrician was sent. “The PWD electrician refused to take up any work as the restoration was being carried out by a different section in the department,” said a library staff member.
Professor Vispi Balaporia, secretary, Asiatic Society, said: “Currently, we are accommodating our members in the reading room, which has no leakage because in rooms with seepage, we have cut electricity supply. But this needs to be fixed before things are damaged beyond repair. We have called our architect to consult her regarding our next course of action.”
Kale said he would write to the PWD secretary about the issue on Tuesday. The PWD officials and architect Lambah were not available for comment.