After spending Rs 24 million on new facility, fate of national library is still uncertainAfter the building that housed Nepal National Library was damaged in the 2015 quake, many books and manuscripts are stored at Mahendra Bhawan School in Sanogaucharan.
Since the Cabinet decided to stop plans for the construction of Nepal National Library at Jamal, Ganesh Shah has been feeling distraught over the government’s move.
“Libraries help in making a thinking society, a society that creates innovators, makers, even revolutionaries like Karl Marx. Some say, if he hadn’t spent time in the British Library, he wouldn’t have been the Marx the world knows,” says the library enthusiast, who himself credits all his achievements to his hours spent learning in the library.
“But it seems the government still doesn’t understand how such institutions forge a learning society,” Shah told the Post. In the years before the earthquake, Shah visited the library often to celebrate Library Day. “Even then I felt there was much to be done to make it a more welcoming place.”
Nepal National Library hasn’t been able to offer any access to the public since the 2015 earthquake. Its former building at Harihar Bhawan, is now full of green overgrowth and flowers and looks ghastly. The makeshift library which was set up in the children’s block of the library, on the grounds of the old Rana palace, suffers leakage during the monsoon.
The rest of its books, including historical books and manuscripts are stored at Mahendra Bhawan School at Sanogaucharan.
And now the government has turned away from its only hope of having its own world class library building on nine ropanis (about 500 square metres) of land at Jamal. The Cabinet on July 19 asked the library to stop any activities related to making a building. The decision came after all the paperwork to build the library under the direction of the Ministry of Education had been completed.
“Only the tender call for construction work was left,” says Upendra Prasad Mainali, the chief librarian of Nepal National library. “We had already spent Rs 24 million towards the building of the library.”
According to a Cabinet minister, the decision against the building of the library was made after Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli said that something like a library should not be built at any place.
“I think it is about leasing the land to the Yeti group,” he said. “The education minister opposed the prime minister during the Cabinet meeting.”
When the Post had tried to reach Minister of Education Giriraj Mani Pokharel, he was unavailable.
Mainali and his team had started looking for a new space for the library since the earthquake. The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology in 2016 had also initiated a committee led by a joint secretary of the ministry, to find a location suitable for the library. In 2018 it had suggested the land at centrally-located Jamal, previously being used by Tribhuvan University for its examination control office, and the recommendation was accepted.
“This was also the first time a building was being designed for the purpose of making a public library,” said Ranjan Shah, whose company Shah Associates came up with the design for a seven-storey, double basement building.
“The proposed building would have all the facilities that a public library requires, from study rooms to workstation and conference halls,” said Shah.
The building designs also include various sectional floors for children, visually and hearing impaired, researchers, elders and spaces for exhibitions. The design is estimated to fit in more than 10,000 visitors a day. If all went according to plan the library would be functioning by 2023.
“We were all excited as it was a feat for us (librarians in the country) as the national library was always supposed to be a separate entity in itself,” says Indira Dali, chair of Dilliraman-Kalyani Regmi Memorial Library and one of the oldest librarians in the country.
Even after the Cabinet decision, Tri-Chandra Multiple Campus was being asked to vacate its premises and move to the Jamal site by the National Reconstruction Authority to develop a park. The Authority’s master plan envisages the area the country’s oldest college occupies to be part of larger Rani Pokhari park complex.
“We had started discussing the Tundikhel master plan in 2019, and we have had several conversations with the former and the current vice-chancellors,”said Sushil Gyawali, chief executive officer of National Reconstruction Authority.
But according to Sunil Adhikari, campus chief of Tri-Chandra College, they had never agreed to shift the college's component to the Jamal area.
"The buildings of the college have historical importance, so we can't tear them down," he told the Post. "What we initially had asked the NRA was to help us restore the buildings and help us extend the college somewhere, as we have over 12,000 students today and Tri-Chandra requires more space," he said.
But Gyawali maintains that the Jamal-based land will be used to construct only a component of the college.
“I think there’s been a misunderstanding. All organisation members have not been informed about the plan as the discussion happened at the different levels of the organisation,” he said
“As for the library, it will be built in the former space at Harihar Bhawan.”
But an official of the Nepal National Library said that the library had not been part of the plan for the future of the Harihar Bhawan complex since the decision to make the library an independent entity.
The government plans to build government guest houses where the make-shift library is now situated within the Harihar Bhawan complex.
“With that decision our occupation of this place, which belongs to the government, will end. This means we will have no place from where we can operate,” said the official on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
With its future in limbo already, the Cabinet decision was a real shock for the library since the government had even allocated a budget of Rs 100 million in the 2020-21 fiscal year for the library building and management.
Twenty million had already been spent on detailed project reports, design of the building and the complex, soil testing, environmental impact study, land certificate proofs and demolition of the old building at Jamal. An additional Rs 4 million had been spent on getting the building design approved by Kathmandu Metropolitan City.
However, many librarians believe the current obstruction in the construction of the library is part of a bigger plan to make a trade complex at Jamal.
“When we started to find out the reason behind the latest Cabinet decision we came to hear two things. One was that a part of Tri Chandra College would be built there and the other that the land was being sought for by Yeti Holdings,” said Dali.
“But it was high time for our National library to have its own space that encouraged a creative environment,” says Shah, who is also a former minister.
“It’s depressing that we still don’t have a national library of a nature that can inspire people,” he says. “Because such a library would have enabled and empowered people to make a better society.”