It is likely that COVID-19 crisis would come to one's mind as the reason for not witnessing the annual Imphal Book Fair since the past two years. But there have been things more than what meets the eye, as alleged misappropriation of grants hovers over the State Central Library located at Keishampat, Imphal West
Investigations by the Imphal Free Press point to the possibility that officials of the State Central Library as well as voluntary organisations, which are beneficiaries of the Raja Rammohun Roy Library Foundation, Kolkata under the Ministry of Culture, Government of India, have allegedly misappropriated grants from the centre.
The Imphal Book Fair which is more or less a calendar event is being organised every year mainly with the help of grants from the Raja Rammohun Roy Library Foundation. Notably, the 28th Imphal Book Fair, 2019 which was shelved and held in January 2020 was the last of this particular annual event organised by the State Central Library, Manipur in the state.
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As per information updated in the official website of Raja Rammohun Roy Library Foundation, Kolkata, an amount of Rs 10,00,000 was sanctioned to the State Central Library from the foundation’s matching grant for organising seminars or workshops and other events in the financial year 2020-21.
However, the present Chief Librarian of the State Central Library, RK Urmila, who assumed charge of the office in March 2022, clarified, “As per my knowledge, no such workshops or seminars were organised during the said time period.”
She also admitted the fact that the state was under Covid induced lockdown during 2020-21 and there were restrictions on gatherings and meetings. Nevertheless, the information in the website said that the grant has been sanctioned, released and settled.
In an earlier interview with this IFP reporter during the preliminary investigation for this report, she had said that there was no grant from the foundation for the financial year 2020-21.
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There has been no clear cut explanation as to where the said grant was utilised since the Chief Librarian also refrained from commenting much on the ground that she held the office just recently and is unaware of what happened before her assuming the charge.
Meanwhile, reliable sources said that the Raja Rammohun Roy Library Foundation usually provides annual grant amounting to around Rs 1,80,00,000 to the State Central Library, Imphal for various purposes, including procurement of books for beneficiaries libraries, upgradation of infrastructures, buying furniture, organising book fairs among others. It is said that the assistance is rendered on a 90:10 basis, 90 per cent being the foundation’s share.
However, sources said that the foundation approved a minimal amount of around Rs five lakh as annual grant for Manipur for the financial year 2021-22 in May-June 2021.
When asked about the approved amount for the financial year 2021-22, the Chief Librarian said that the amount was simply approved and not even released yet.
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“We are yet to pursue the said grant since we are unsure of what significant activities to take up with such a minimal amount,” she said.
Chief Librarian RK Urmila added that a meeting of the state library planning committee is in the offing to see if the grant can be increased to come up with the activities of the library.
Here, it remains questionable as to why the meeting was deferred since the amount was already approved for more than a year.
It is also worth pointing out that the sharp cutting down of grants reportedly came as a disapproval from the Director General of the foundation right after his inspection visit to Manipur last year.
While officials have associated the massive cut in grants to the Covd crisis, a letter from the Director General addressed to the Chief Librarian after his inspection visit revealed that the foundation was upset with the sorry state of affairs of how some of the beneficiary voluntary organisations are running and operating libraries in the state.
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It is said that when the Director General inspected the beneficiary libraries run by voluntary organisations, there were no libraries or infrastructures of a library of any sort in areas proposed by some of the voluntary organisations, which have received the financial assistance.
The letter instructed the Chief Librarian to make the voluntary organisations, which have allegedly misappropriated the grants, refund the amount with an interest of six per cent per annum.
Since the voluntary organisations apply for the financial assistance with the recommendation of the State Central Library, it is also pertinent to question whether there has been a hand in glove between the voluntary organisations, which misappropriated the grants and the officials who recommended them to the foundation.
In this regard, the Chief Librarian denied any collusion between the voluntary organisations and the State Central Library.
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“We have even instructed the voluntary organisations to submit utilisation certificates to the foundation. Yet they are unable to since they have misused the grants. We have nothing to do with the grants provided to them since they received the amount directly and not through us,” she said.
Urmila maintained that the State Central Library is putting maximum efforts to streamline the matter.
It is said that the number of beneficiary libraries run by the voluntary organisations in the state have also reduced from 144 to just around 110.
While such scandalous affairs are unbecoming of the institution of library, writers of the state are also paying its price.
The State Central Library with the grants from the Raja Rammohun Roy Library Foundation purchases books for the beneficiary libraries from the writers annually.
The same has been stopped for the financial years 2020-21 and 2021-22. Noted writers and literary organisations recently drew the attention of the chief minister and the state government to provide financial assistance to the writers and the literary organisations and to take steps for sanctioning of the grants from the foundation.
In this regard, an eminent writer, who chose to remain anonymous, told the Imphal Free Press that the jeopardising of the library movement in Manipur is extremely unfortunate.
He further said that the purchase of the books by the State Central Library had helped the writers at least in meeting a small part of the cost of printing, which is quite high now. "Besides, the writers are being deprived of the opportunity to sell their books because of the hiatus brought to the Imphal Book Fair,” he contended.
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He further alleged that the state government is indifferent towards the writers and literary organisations.
Referring to the Assam government’s initiatives for welfare of the writers and the literary organisations in the state, he proposed sanctioning of at least Rs 5,00,00,000 to be deposited as corpus fund and to provide the annual interest as assistance to the writers and literary groups.