The Delhi High Court on Tuesday said it was “appalled” by the historic Delhi Public Library’s “lack of concern” towards its property and books at Karol Bagh at New Delhi. The view was expressed by a bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar after the lawyer representing the library said he had no instructions on whether the books had been removed or not. The lawyer for Delhi Public Library (DPL) said they had to inspect the books and ascertain their condition before any steps were taken.
“We are absolutely appalled by your lack of concern for your property and the books. You have no concern for what is actually public property. Your concern is obvious from your conduct,” the bench said. The court had on December 6 last asked the library to preserve its books, which are locked up in the premises in question since November, 2016. It had directed the authorities to shift the books, CDs, computers, catalogues and other important material lying in the premises to Delhi Public Library’s head office or any other safe location.
Meanwhile, the lawyer for the person who bought the building housing the library told the court that DPL officials had visited the premises and were packing up the books. The owner’s lawyer also said that his client was willing to pay around Rs 40 lakh to set up the library on some other vacant land. The bench listed the matter for further hearing on March 20. The first Delhi Public Library was started by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru across the Old Delhi Railway Station in 1951.
The court on December 4, 2016 had extended till March 20, 2017 its order restraining the North Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) from demolishing the building. The court was hearing a petition filed by some scholars and journalists, who had moved against the corporations’ notices to the library to vacate the premises, claiming that the building was structurally unfit and dangerous. The court had directed the authorities to lock the library while ensuring that no life was put in danger.
The library was issued the first notice by the NDMC on September 15, 2016 and the next one on November 4, 2017, asking the library to vacate so that the building could be demolished. Seeking quashing of the notices, the petitioners have alleged that the owner of the premises, Dimple Enterprises, “wants a commercial complex in place of the library in order to make money from the land”. Funded by the Ministry of Culture, the Delhi Public Library is an autonomous body which has around 45 branches and mobile libraries across Delhi.
Officers from both central and Delhi governments, intellectuals, members of legislative assembly and councillors are its members.