The politics of one regime’s meat being the other’s poison continues unabated in our State. The latest to face the heat is the Anna Centenary Library in Kotturpuram, one of the pet projects of the previous government. It has been announced that this will be converted into a super-speciality hospital for children. The State Government would do well to reconsider its decision, after taking into account not only the logistics and cost involved in such an action, but also the sentiments of litterateurs and book-lovers not only from within Tamil Nadu but all across the world.
The Anna Library, built at a cost of Rs 172 crores, was declared open last year. It houses 15 lakh books and is presently attracting around 1500 visitors every day. Modelled on the National Library of Singapore, it has received praise from all quarters and is considered a worthy addition to a city that has prided itself on being a knowledge capital.
The idea of a second hospital in the city (after the Institute of Child Health) for children is most welcome. But can it not be at a green-field location? Why does it have to be in place of the library? Let’s face it. Transforming into a hospital a building custom-made to house a library is no easy task. It is going to involve huge expenditure in a complete transformation of the interiors. Newspaper estimates put the figure at Rs 100 crore, which is more than 50% of the cost incurred in putting up the library. And even then the final results are not going to be as satisfactory as a freshly planned and executed hospital would be. The only saving would be in the cost of construction of the shell, for that is all that would remain if the library is to be stripped and remodelled into a hospital.
The location is also worthy of reconsideration. The library is ideally situated, as it is in the middle of an educational precinct. There are schools, engineering colleges and institutes of international repute surrounding it. Would a hospital with all its adjuncts not vitiate this atmosphere of education?
The Government has also announced that it proposes to build another Anna Library, to house the present collection, at the Directorate of Public Instruction Campus (DPI). This is most undesirable. The DPI is home to several heritage structures – the main building, the Madras Literary Society, the two arched gateways (one on College Road and the other, rarely noticed but facing the Cooum) are just a few. The main building is undergoing restoration while the MLS has just been renovated. Are these structures to now bear the stress of modern high-rise construction in their neighbourhood? In addition, it is a green lung, with several age-old trees. The previous Government in the construction of the now abandoned New Assembly cum Secretariat Complex on Mount Road had razed several heritage structures and denuded the area of its tree cover. Does the present regime want to leave behind an identical record?
The decision to abandon the Assembly on Mount Road met with mixed reactions. Not everyone was impressed with its architecture and the idea of power being centred at Fort St George appealed to those with a sense of history. But the plan to relocate the library for no valid reason is likely to see a groundswell of public opinion against the move. The State Government hopefully should read the direction of the wind and let the library stay where it is.