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22 months and counting: Hardayal library’s staff struggle without salaries

Since June last year, employees at the 163-year-old library have been protesting over unpaid dues

January 23, 2023 02:42 am | Updated January 26, 2023 10:10 am IST - New Delhi

Hardayal Municipal Heritage Public Library at Chandni Chowk in Delhi.

Hardayal Municipal Heritage Public Library at Chandni Chowk in Delhi. | Photo Credit: SUSHIL KUMAR VERMA

Gangaram, an attendant at Hardayal Municipal Public Library in Chandni Chowk, has been on a strike along with his colleagues since June last year over the issue of their pending salaries. The library’s staff has not been paid for the past 22 months.

“I am unable to meet my family’s daily needs and bills are piling up. I have to continue protesting because no one else is going to help us. I have worked here for 20 years. This situation has made me, and others at the library, quite helpless,” said Mr. Gangaram.

Explaining why the employees of the 163-year-old library have been protesting for nearly seven months, even as their hopes of getting their pending salaries dwindle by the day, Mr. Gangaram’s colleague Ashok Chaudhary said, “If we don’t sit on strike, the authorities will go ahead and lock the library. So, we are left with no other option but to commute to our office spending from our ever-shrinking savings to demand our dues.”

Financial woes

The library functions on an annual grant from the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), which is slightly over ₹4 crore. However, according to the acting librarian Rajendra Singh Jatav, the grant for the current financial year remains pending, while an additional ₹2.26 crore from the previous financial year is yet to be received.

In August last year, the civic body disbursed ₹50 lakh to the library, of the pending amount of slightly over ₹2 crore, which was used to pay the pending salaries of its employees for up to three months. However, the employees said that the amount they received was much too less.

Rajendra Singh Jatav, the acting librarian of Hardayal Municipal Heritage Public Library.

Rajendra Singh Jatav, the acting librarian of Hardayal Municipal Heritage Public Library. | Photo Credit: SUSHIL KUMAR VERMA

Funds exhausted

When The Hindu paid a visit to the library, which opens from 8 a.m. till 10 p.m., only the reading room was open for visitors. Despite all odds, Mr. Jatav keeps the doors open, he says, to give civil services aspirants a space to study.

Going through the documents of the library, Mr. Jatav said, “I don’t think we can pay the electricity bills after the next couple of months.” He added that he saved a part of the funds disbursed last August to keep the library running and pay the maintenance costs. But he feared that this paltry sum will soon run out as well.

“I don’t have the money to pay for my children’s education. Barring a few employees, who are helping maintain the library out of goodwill, most of my colleagues are out on the strike,” said Mr. Jatav.

The MCD’s director for press and information Amit Kumar said that the grant due to the library remains unpaid largely due to the civic body’s ongoing financial crunch. He added that efforts are under way to ensure that the salaries are disbursed at the earliest. However, he did not specify a timeline for the same.

“We are working on a memorandum of understanding between the library and the MCD to ensure better management of the library and to avoid such hiccups in the future,” said Mr. Kumar.

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