“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead.
Last year (2016), I came across a woman who told me that the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) collects library cess but there are no good public libraries in Hyderabad. She requested me to take up the issue. I forgot all about it until one day when a friend of mine shared a news article on library cess not being used for libraries. I was instantly reminded of the woman’s complaint and I started my research.
Information obtained through the Right to Information Act revealed that the GHMC has collected Library Cess of Rs 339.87 crore from 2006 to 2013 from the citizens but has paid just Rs 39 crore to the Hyderabad City Grandhalaya Samstha (HCGS).
I had friends who used to use private reading rooms for preparing for central and state competitive exams. They used to pay 500-2000 rupees per month to read in the reading rooms. I wondered, what kind of double taxation is this. On one hand the government collects tax and doesn’t use it to provide the service and on the other hand, the citizens are forced to pay for private rooms. Books are an integral part of all-round development of individual. Books change lives. Imagine what would have happened if Anna Hazare didn’t get his hands on the book “Vivekananda-His call for the nation” on the platform of New Delhi railway station when he was contemplating suicide?
I along with a few friends visited the libraries. In the city’s biggest library, “Hyderabad city central Library”, students study sitting under the shade of trees in the scorching heat of summer months. I was reminded of Swami Vivekananda’s words, “I hold every man a traitor who, having been educated at their expense, pays not the least heed to them.” It is the responsibility of citizens to make governments accountable. My instant reaction was, “Let’s get this library cess scrapped.”
Book purchases have not been taken up for the past 3 years in Hyderabad because of non remittance of library cess. Department of Public libraries has requested a sum of Rs1 crore per month for proper maintenance of libraries, for which the GHMC was releasing only Rs 12.5 lakh per month which was barely sufficient for the maintenance of libraries including paying salaries. Though the HCGS claims that there are more than 85 public libraries in Hyderabad, most of them are dysfunctional without any facilities. After a lot of research, I fine tuned my argument to “Let us get the library cess used properly or else get it scrapped.”
According to Andhra Pradesh Public libraries act, a Zilla Grandhalaya Samithi should be set up in every district. Within the district all municipalities and panchayats collect 8% of property tax as library cess and are supposed to transfer this amount to the Zilla Grandhalaya Samithis. It is the responsibility of Zilla Grandhalaya Samithi to provide library services in the district. GHMC collects the cess in GHMC limits and is supposed to transfers the revenues to Hyderabad City Grandhalaya Samithi which provides library services in Hyderabad city. GHMC is only the collection agent and has to transfer the entire cess to HCGS, which it is not.
So I interacted with HCGS officials to understand the problem. The HCGS officials complained that despite writing several letters to remit the library cess, GHMC isn’t transferring the money. Last Summer, I filed a Public Interest Litigation(PIL) against the GHMC and State government for non-remittance of library cess.
The GHMC first argued that it is planning to decrease library cess to which the high court rightly objected that this step doesn’t absolve them of the responsibility of remitting the taxes collected. The Telangana Government, Department of Public libraries and the Education Department supported my petition and pleaded the high court to allow my PIL in the interest of justice.
- The Telangana government has constituted the Telangana Grandhalaya Parishad at state level and zilla grandhalaya samstha committees on 11-11-2016.
- The first Telangana Grandhalaya Parishad meeting took place on 13-12-2016. The book purchase process has been taken up.
- Telangana deputy chief minister Kadiyam Srihari has recently announced that orders have been issued to modernize all public libraries in the state
- He has also said that a proposal has been sent to the government to pay salaries to library employees directly from the treasury.
Message to The Logical Indian community:
- You can really influence the government and policies-. Only that you need patience and strategy.
- Enlightened citizenship is about caring for things around us because they affect our lives in some form or the other. Citizens should work in enlightened self interest.
- Pulling the right levers of change is important in getting things done.
About the author
Donthineni Narasimha is presently pursuing his MBA at IIM Rohtak. He had contested Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation Elections at the age of 24 in 2016 February, campaigned for better public transportation facilities for students in Hyderabad and got the combination ticket introduced in RTC buses for students in Hyderabad. Also, he is the founder of an organization “Youth for Better India” which involved one lakh youth in anti-corruption campaign.
Narasimha is an alumnus of Vision India Foundation and has attended the Public Policy Bootcamp in 2016.
With #MySocialResponsibility, we aim to bring you more inspiring stories of individuals and organisations across the globe. If you also know about any changemakers, share their story at [email protected] and we'll spread the word.