To make way for a flyover, ‘the Institution of National Importance’ is going to be partially demolished
Shaheen Nazar | Patna
PATNA’S famous Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Public Library, “the Institution of National Importance” according to Parliament, is currently facing an existential crisis. The Bihar government has almost decided to demolish a portion of it to make way for a flyover. The intelligentsia is crying foul. People are holding meetings, issuing statements and petitioning authorities with plea to spare this iconic library and its heritage building known as Curzon Reading Room and find an alternative route for flyover.
The road on which the library exists is called Ashok Raj Path, a highly congested place in the middle of the town that hosts a number of important institutions such as Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH), Patna University, Patna Science College, Madrasa Shamsul Hoda, Urdu Library, Urdu Bhavan (that houses Bihar Urdu Academy and Anjuman Taraqqui-e-Urdu) as well as National Institute of Technology (NIT). The plan is to build a 2.2 km flyover that would connect the famous Gandhi Maidan to NIT, thus decongesting the road.
The unmindful minds which conceived and designed the flyover perhaps did not realise the resistance they would face. The reason is all the institutions on the road, except the library, come under the Bihar government. Therefore, obtaining NOCs from them would not be an issue because it’s a state government project. The library comes under the Union Ministry of Culture. Knowing the apathy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government to anything Islam and Muslim is well-known. So, partially demolishing and disfiguring an institution of international repute was not a challenge for the planners of flyover.
Muslim leadership silent
But, to their dismay, the resistance has come not from the usual suspect, the Muslims. Reactions of Urdu newspapers in Patna are muted. Even Muslim leadership is generally looking the other way round. However, scholars, academicians, writers, book lovers and those concerned with heritage are up in arms. Their restlessness and anger is finding space in the media. Starting with local editions of Times of India and Hindustan times, and even Hindi’s Dainik Jagran and Dainik Hindustan, the issue has been picked up by national media. Recently Gulf News of Dubai also reported the matter.
Located on the banks of the Ganges, the library was founded in 1891 by Khan Bahadur Khuda Bakhsh. It is one of the national libraries of India and designated as “the Institution of National Importance” by a 1969 Act of Parliament. The front portion of the library which is facing the axe is Curzon Reading Room, a heritage building named after the erstwhile Viceroy to India George Curzon to mark his visit to the library in 1905.
Shayesta Bedar, the current director of the library, has been quoted in the media as saying that she is not against any development. “But development at the cost of such an important institution is not justified.”
The library, an autonomous organisation fully funded by the Ministry of Culture, is governed by a Board with the Governor of Bihar as its ex officio Chairman and representatives of Central and state governments as its members. Bedar is citing resolution of the board’s meeting, which has said that essential elegance of the library and its hoary past would be obliterated if any portion of its land taken over for road construction. “We preserved the library’s (Curzon) reading room, which is more than a century old, even as a modern three-storey building of the library was opened by President Ram Nath Kovind in 2017,” she said.
Rare collection of manuscripts
The library is known for its rare collection of Persian and Arabic manuscripts. It also hosts paintings made during the Rajput and Mughal eras of India. It is also a designated ‘Manuscript Conservation Centre’ (MCC) under the National Mission for Manuscripts. The library was started with 4,000 manuscripts of which the Khan Bahadur had inherited 1,400 from his father Maulvi Mohammad Baksh. Currently this library has more than 21,000 rare manuscripts and 25,000 books in Persian, Arabic, Urdu, English, Turkish and many other languages. Its immense historical and intellectual value frequently draws research scholars from across the world.
Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), non-profit organisation founded with the objectives to spearhead heritage awareness and sensitise the people about pluralistic cultural legacy, has taken up the cause of Khuda Bakhsh Library. It has held meetings and visited the library and made a formal appeal to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to save the heritage structure from being bulldozed. It also threatened to move the court if the government didn’t pay heed to its appeal.
“The heritage building shouldn’t be destroyed, even partially. We will urge the people to come forward to save this building,” said JK Lal, chief of Patna chapter of INTACH in a statement.
A former officer of the Indian Police Service (IPS) Amitabh Kumar Das has not only sent a letter to the state government warning it drop its demolition plan but has also released a video message which has gone viral. He says in the video “As a book lover, I am shocked to know the proposed plan of the government to demolish portions of the library. This should not be done since it is a heritage for the entire human population.”
Prominent historian and the Khuda Bakhsh Library’s former director Dr. Imtiaz Ahmad has expressed disgust over the plan. “I am shocked that a proposal to bulldoze our heritage has been submitted,” he has said.
A literary organisation called Ayaam, apparently consisting of women writers, this week held a meeting to denounce the move. Patna’s Hindi newspapers have quoted Padma Shri Usha Kiran Khan as warning the government to change the route of the flyover. She described the plan as “inhuman”. Ayaam’s secretary Vina Amrit said the government must review its decision. Writer Bhavna Shekhar said to save this library Ayaam will play an active role.
Now the question is: will the Nitish Kumar-led Bihar government take note of the public sentiments. Khuda Bakhsh Library officials Clarion India talked to narrated one incident which is indicative of the mood in the administration. Those who were sent by the director of the library to see the district magistrate of Patna, on the latter’s invitation, were tersely told that the plan has been finalised and the library will have to give the NOC. “You have to decide just one thing: who will issue this, you or the Union government.”