The 150-years-old Hardayal Library in Delhi has preserved 1.7 lakh books and is completely autonomous
No recorded history of autonomous rule is available in Delhi before the year 1863. But in 1862 there is some evidence found of a kind of municipality existing in Delhi.
The Punjab Government’s municipality notification of 1850 was implemented in Delhi on December 13, 1862. The first regular meeting of the municipality was held on 23 April 1863 in which local residents were invited. The other meeting, held on June 1, 1863, was chaired by the Commissioner of Delhi and had been recorded in a proper manner. This is the history of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi.
But a year before this historical event, the foundation of the Hardayal Municipal Heritage Public Library, funded from one hundred percent grant by the corporation, was laid. That year, 1862, is the point which marks the beginning of the heritage of the library. At present, this library has 28 branches. It has its headquarters in Gandhi Ground, Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi. The library, is an autonomous institute. Thirty employees work in the headquarters. In the Delhi Assembly, Leader of Opposition in Delhi Assembly, Vijendra Gupta’s wife, Dr. Shobha Vijender who is a former Municipal Councilor herself, is its honorary secretary and Mayor of Northern Corporation is its ex-officio chairman.
The Hardayal Municipal Library is a heritage of Indian history, in modern times. This is the oldest library in Delhi. The library, named after the leading freedom fighter, Lala Hardayal, who participated in Indian freedom struggle, has reached this privileged status after crossing many ups and downs.
In 1862, an Englishman came to India and being highly fond of reading books, he was in a way instrumental and a key pillar in the laying down of the foundation of this library. During the months he stayed in India he had bought a great number of books. He was extremely fond of reading books and after having collected a very large number of books, it was probably not possible for him to take back all those books with him to Britain. Therefore he placed them in a room. The room was named ‘Institute Library’.
Later, when India became independent, the name of that room was changed to Laurence Institute. The library building was built between 1861 and 1866. Today the building is famously known as Town Hall. It was the headquarters of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi till 2012. The present town hall building was constructed in 1866. At the time it was called the Institute Building, and it was constructed at a cost of Rs 1.86 lakh.
After the famous durbar was held in Delhi, the formation of the municipal corporation was changed again. The number of ex-officio members was reduced to three and the number of elected members was also reduced to 11. There were 11 nominated members as well.
In the year 1902 the library was renamed Delhi Public Library. It was shifted to a smaller building in Kucha Bagh. A librarian, a clerk and a peon were appointed to it. At that time these employees were considered adequate for serving the Sahibs and Memsahibs. The story of this library becaming an important part of the freedom movement and its hallmark, is very interesting.
On 23 December 1912 an event changed the fate of this library. Lord Hardinge was leading a procession atop an elephant in the Company Bagh area of Old Delhi when a bomb was thrown at him. The same Company Garden is now called the Gandhi Maidan. Lord Hardinge escaped with serious injuries from the bomb attack. Lala Hardayal, MA, had organised the procession. He was from Chandni Chowk. After the bomb incident, a committee was formed to investigate the matter.
Foundation of the new building of Delhi Public Library was laid under the chairmanship of Raibahadur Lala Shiv Prasad,. This committee deposited 70 thousand rupees for this purpose. Khan Sahab Haji Bakshi Elahi alone donated Rs fourteen thousand. The Maharaja of Kashmir also donated ten thousand rupees. The library was renamed Hardinge Municipal Public Library. This was in the year 1916. The library was renamed and it was then shifted to a new building. After some time in 1941, when the freedom movement in India was at its peak, the library was renamed yet again, it was now called ‘Hardinge Library’.
At the same time, an agreement was reached between the Library and the Municipal Committee. It was decided here that it would henceforth work under the Municipal body. The hundred percent grants to the library will be given by the corporation, but it will be an autonomous body. With passage of time, a number of local people continued to participate in it. Later, much after the country’s independence, in the year 1970, it was named Hardyal Municipal Public Library in the name of freedom fighter Hardayal.
At present, there are three Municipal Corporations in Delhi. The municipal corporation was reorganised in 2012. There was a slugfest among the three municipal corporations to take control of this library. But considering its autonomy, it was decided its headquarter will remain in Chandni Chowk, though its branches will be run in both the southern and eastern corporations. Regardless of the headquarter in north Delhi, southern and eastern Delhi municipal corporations continued lending it financial support. Thereby, no financial difficulties were encountered in the maintenance of other state-of-the-art technologies such as headquarter, repair, reading room, furniture, fittings etc. in the library.
Library’s administration is also completely transparent. A councilor of the corporation is made its secretary. Mayor of Northern Delhi is the ex-officio Chairman. There are other people in the management committee who meet from time to time to improve the library and take decisions for its development. Besides the Mayor in the Managing Committee, there are six elected members from North Delhi Municipal Corporation. One member is from the South Delhi Municipal Corporation and one member is made from the East Delhi Municipal Corporation. Four members are elected from the Library. It sounds strange but it is a reality that out of 585 days in a year the library remains open on 358 days. The reading room of the library is open to common man from 8 am to 10 pm. The headquarters runs all seven days a week and all employees work on regular basis.
At this time the library is going through a renovation phase. All modern amenities including air conditioning, are being arranged for the library. This facility is being provided by Chartered Accountants of India, New Delhi. An MoU has also been signed for this. As many as 31 newspapers, and 72 magazines in Hindi, English, Urdu, Punjabi are made available free of cost to readers here. To prevent the books in the library from decay, they are being preserved though lamination and book-binding as many books and manuscripts are old and rare.
The Times of India, Hindustan Times, Navbharat Times, Hindustan Hindi Dainik and Jansatta are prominently available here with 3123 Gazettes of Government of India, and Government Notifications from 1972 to 1998. Readers are given membership for a fee of two hundred rupees per annum. Fifteen hundred rupees is the lifetime membership fee. For an additional deposit of five hundred rupees customers can borrow books to be read at home worth up to a thousand rupees.
The library’s ambience recreates the memory of old Delhi and the old days. At present, the library has stored 1.70 lakh books. These include known books in Hindi, English, Urdu, Persian and Sanskrit. This is the world’s first library to have collection of eight hundred rare books which is not6 available elsewhere.
The old books available exclusively here include ‘A relation of some years’(1634) written by Traveli Begowgewen, Sir Walter Raleigh’s History of the World - written between 1676 and 1677, the Voyages of the World by Jan Francis Genelie Correrie, written in 1705, Charles Steward’s book- Tajweed-El-Waqayat (1828), Travels in India, written by William Hodges in 1794, Rigveda Code written by H. H. Willson in 1854, Satyartha Prakash written in 1881 by Swami Dayanand Saraswati. The Mahabharata, written in Persian language by Abul Razi, Quran-e-Majid written in 1928 and the Quran handwritten by Aurangzeb in 1928. Such rare books highlight the value and the beauty of this library in Delhi.
However, the highest number of branches -13 - are in North Delhi on account of the headquarter being situated there. South Delhi has 12 and East Delhi has three branches. People are getting all the facilities in all these branches. In the future, full computerization is being planned for the library, preparations are going on for special technical arrangements of microfilming in the libraries. The plans are to start a branch of the library in every ward of Delhi and to have more and more people join in this ambitious project deeply associated with its history. Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) is also trying to preserve its historical significance by seriously focusing on the entire project.
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