After the state school census unravelled a number of irregularities such as ‘ghost’ students and virtually non-functioning schools, a census of libraries conducted late last year has revealed a similar situation haunting public libraries in the state, prompting the administration to either close or downgrade libraries operating arbitrarily.
After the census report was submitted to the state government, it gave its go-ahead on Wednesday for closure of 914 of the 12,861 public libraries in the state, out of which 36 are in the Mumbai region. The decision would result in the saving of Rs 3.48 crore allocated to operate the libraries, government sources said.
The state cabinet, in its weekly meeting, also allowed the higher and technical education department to downgrade some 360 libraries from their current rating since many were found lacking in meeting stipulations, such as the requisite number of books, access to certain amenities and resources and so on. This would save the state another Rs 4.9 crore.
The closure and degradation will together enable the cash-strapped government to save over Rs 8 crore annually, doled out as grants to run these below-par libraries. The proposal for closure and downgrading has been ratified by the state cabinet, and it has been decided that for the current year no new library will be allowed to open.
The government allocates approximately Rs 115.64 crore for libraries as annual grants to purchase books and pay staff salaries. The census also revealed that of the 12,861 public libraries across the state, only 5,784 were being run as per norms prescribed by the higher and technical education department.
Another 5,788 libraries have a number of discrepancies, but they are corrigible. As such, these libraries are to be given three months to fulfill necessary criteria, following which a fresh census will be conducted to decide whether they should be allowed to continue. The highest number of libraries that face closure are in Marathwada region, where 381 libraries will be asked to down shutters. The region has the highest number of libraries 4,272 of which just 1,825 fulfill the norms.
The Mumbai region, which comprises the metropolis, Thane, Raigad, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts, has 623 libraries, and 353 of them adhere to the norms set by the government. Higher and Technical Education Minister Rajesh Tope told MiD DAY that notice will be issued to the libraries at fault pointing out discrepancies before the closure.