Once touted as former Chief Minister and DMK President M Karunanidhi’s pet project, the Anna Centenary Library in Chennai is now lying in a state of ruin, with crumbling infrastructure and security measures in disarray since 2016.
Since its inauguration in 2010, the library at Kottupuram boasts of a total of 6,10,000 books, says Santhamakarthikeyan, the Information Officer. Despite this, the only department that sees the maximum crowd is the ‘Bring Your Own Book (BYOB)’ section on the Ground and First floor.
Students preparing for competitive exams and college semester exams are the only regulars that the library receives. Yet, it is the BYOB section that lacks air conditioning in the entire library.
Each department in the library sees an average of 50-60 visitors every day- senior citizens who wish to finish their novel or students/Ph.D holders who have been loyal to the library for years seeking the peace and isolation that the library offers.
But that’s the most that ACL can offer, since it prohibits borrowing/issuing books and has provided no membership for the past six years.
Charu Gupta, a journalism student said that the library offers her the required books but then questions the purpose of the library if she cannot issue them. “It is not possible for me to visit the library every day for reading. They do not issue books nor do they allow to carry personal books or any printed material for that regard inside the library,” she added.
Regarding the availability of books at the library, most were purchased in 2010. Since then, only a few books were found to be purchased in 2016-2017. Between 2010-2017, the cash crunch limited the shelves to outdated books and obsolete texts.
It was only in 2017, when Rs 4.5 crore out of the Rs 5 crore was sanctioned by the government that ACL received new editions of books.
The Information Officer said that the library has purchased 55,000 new books after the funds arrived. On being asked to show the records of books purchased under all sections in 2017, the officer cited server issues and claimed that information cannot be accessed at that moment but would be available only two to three days later.
A senior citizen who introduced himself as an author, has been loyal to the library for the past two years.
He said, “I see the same set of books ever since I started coming here. There are a lot of books in this library, but there should be periodic upgradations. Since it is a government library, issuing funds for it is the least priority here.”
Similar were the views of a civil aspirant, Neethu, who said that the competitive section was devoid of latest books. Most of the shelves in the competitive section were empty.
After AIADMK assumed power in the state in 2011, conspicuous efforts were made to uproot DMK’s pet project ACL, which is dedicated to the ex-Chief Minister CN Annadurai.
Jayalalithaa, the then Chief Minister wanted to convert the library into a super-speciality paediatric hospital and announced that the library would be shifted to Nungambakkam.
The decision sparked outrage among the DMK, the student community and the scholars. Three Public Interest Litigations (PIL) were filed against the order, following which the Madras High Court stayed the order.
Florent C Pereira, the General Manager of the Kalaignar TV- DMK’s mouthpiece said that the ruling AAIADMK is not doing enough to maintain the library. None of the AIADMK party members were available for comment.
The library has also witnessed thefts of visitors’ belongings, mainly laptops and other gadgets.
The token system, introduced recently to combat persistent cases of theft within the premises, has also failed to protect the belongings of visitors.
As staff run out of tokens, bags and belongings lie outside the counter, increasing the possibility of theft.
The staff, librarians and visitors are tight-lipped and aversive to speak about funds worth Rs 5 crore sanctioned by the Tamil Nadu government in 2017, asserting that the information is confidential.
The window glasses damaged by cyclone Vardah in 2016 have been in repair for the past two months.
The escalator on the ground floor of the library lies dysfunctional for the past 10-15 day, while the water coolers on some of the floors were broken and ran dry.
“Earlier they provided purified water but now metro water is used. It tastes really bad,” said Gazal*, a regular visitor.
Santhamakarthikeyan claims that funds worth Rs 75 lakh were sanctioned by the government as disaster relief last year and is now being utilized for maintenance. However, no explanation was offered for the delay in repair.
The toilets in library remain neglected and unhygienic.
Reacting to the unsanitary condition of the bathrooms, Santhamakarthikeyan said, “We understand that there is a problem at hand but it is an issue of labour and not maintenance. The task is pending with ‘A2Z infrastructure’. Because of the labour issues with the company, they have not been cleaning toilets properly since last three months.”
A2Z Infrastructure is a maintenance and engineering services firm in Gurgaon, which provides contract-labourers for maintaining cleanliness in the library.
“We cannot directly deal with the problem. We can only inform them and then the PWD takes charge. This communication process takes time. The government has the decisive power and a lot lies in its hand,” Santhamakarthikeyan added.
Despite the state of neglect, the library itself holds an important position in the development of the state. Such is the reverence that students have rented apartments and hostels in the locality to get easy access to the library.
Students disregard inconvenience of travel and cost when it to comes to education. They arrive early in the morning and leave only after dusk.
Nithin, a 27-year-old civil services aspirant, who hails from Salem said, “I have come to this city only to avail the benefits that the library offers.”
He continued, “The government inaction might gradually lead to the demise of the library, which will be a huge setback for students like me.”