Bona fide move can't be termed tainted, says government

The Tamil Nadu government's bona fide move to ensure that the Anna Centenary Library (ACL) subserves its object and purpose fully by being more accessible cannot be alleged to be tainted by mala fide/political motives and it is entitled to take a policy decision keeping in mind people's welfare, it was submitted before the Madras High Court on Thursday.

In a counter to petitions challenging the proposed shifting of the ACL from Kotturpuram to Nungambakkam here, before the First Bench of Chief Justice M.Y. Eqbal and Justice T.S. Sivagnanam, the government said “sweeping allegations” that the decision smacked of mala fides, besides being a colourable exercise of power and that it amounted to abuse of power, were baseless.

The counter filed by School Education Secretary D. Sabitha, through Advocate-General A. Navaneethakrishnan, stated that Kottupuram was not as easily accessible as the DPI campus. The statistics of readers visiting the library was not encouraging when compared to the books and other facilities available. The decision to shift the library to the proposed Integrated Knowledge Park (IKP) on the DPI campus was in larger public interest.

The law precluded judicial review of policy decisions unless there was any arbitrariness.

There would be no loss to the exchequer because of the shifting.

The establishment of the library at Kotturpuram had been found to be superfluous in nature. There were advantages of having a multi-specialty paediatric hospital, instead of a library, on the site.

It would be of “tremendous value” for the burgeoning population of south Chennai.

In November last year, the government refunded Rs.177.43 crore utilised for constructing the ACL building and Rs.23.25 crore for setting up the integrated book monitoring and security system to the Local Library Authority. Thus, it was evident that the government intended to refund the money spent on the construction of the library building from the sum given by the LLA to provide suitable and better library services in rural and urban areas equitably.

The Secretary said that the library would be shifted only after completion of work at the IKP. The library would be shifted to a better place with better facilities. The government's intention was to house all the common facilities of the School Education Department along with the centralised library in the proposed IKP.

Meanwhile, one of the writ petitioners, Kavignar Ilayabarathi, alleged that even after the court order of January 19 directing the authorities not to withdraw any facility provided in the ACL, they had been violating the order. They were attempting to retrench the library staff and other activities leading to its closure.

The authorities wanted the library to die a natural death.

In the affidavit, filed through senior counsel P. Wilson, Mr. Ilayabarathi said the library was not being maintained properly as was done before the government took the impugned decision. All basic facilities were not maintained property. Most of the books had been removed and the shelves were empty.

The Bench has directed the government to file a reply to the affidavit by March 13.