The Parliament library issued nearly 1,500 books from June to December 2020, but only a few of them were delivered to residences of parliamentarians in Delhi after the home book delivery facility was announced in May when the country battled the Covid-19 pandemic, officials familiar with the matter said. According to a bulletin circulated among the members of Parliament, the facility will continue for now.
“Around seven or eight MPs [members of Parliament] requested the books be delivered to their residences,” said a Parliament official, who did not want to be named. “…others had the books collected by their personal assistants. There is no separate record maintained for the books delivered to the homes of MPs.”
The official added many MPs returned to their constituencies because of the pandemic, which may be the primary reason why fewer books were requested. Former Lok Sabha speaker Shivraj Patil; Congress MPs Adhir Ranjan Chowdhary, and Jairam Ramesh; Bharatiya Janata Party lawmakers Rakesh Sinha and Bhupendra Yadav were among those who requested the books/periodicals to be either home delivered or shared online.
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“We get many telephonic queries. …we have worked from home and worked a lot to keep up with the demands. The reading room was reopened around September and to ensure social distancing norms, we asked the MPs to keep every second seat vacant,” second a second official.
The entries in the register in the reading room have gone down with Sinha’s name figuring the most.
A third official, who has worked at the library for nearly 15 years, said the MPs would saunter in [frequently] during the pre-Covid times. “Now we see a lot less of them… the sessions have been very short,” said the official.
The third official said around 150-200 MPs would visit the library daily during sessions before the pandemic. The library issued over 3,000 books from May 2019 to March last year when the Parliament was adjourned as India introduced the lockdown to check the Covid-19 spread.
The Winter Session of Parliament was cancelled in November because of the pandemic. Parliament normally holds three sessions in a year. The Budget Session is held from the end of January to early April, Monsoon from July to August, and Winter between November and December. Last year, the Budget Session was cut short by eight days, and a shortened Monsoon Session was also reduced by the same duration due to the pandemic. The ongoing Budget Session began on January 29.
The first official said most MPs sought references to add value to the debates. “Most books issued are on the subjects of economics, finance, constitution, law, debates, acts, and bills,” the first official said. “Many MPs also request newspapers. We have even shared the information on WhatsApp.”
Access to foreign dailies such as The New York Times has also been granted.
Last year in March, Lok Sabha speaker Om Birla wrote to MPs such as Sinha and Ramesh seeking suggestions on how to make the Parliament library the best.
Sinha said the library staff has been very cooperative and even helped him get many rare books. “They would purchase the books and even home deliver them,” he said. “I got a copy of [Leo] Tolstoy’s Hum Karein Kya [the Hindi translation of What Is to Be Done describing contemporary Russia] and The Indian Ideology by Anderson Perry.”
Ramesh said his main suggestion was the library should be opened to students and scholars. “The present procedures are far too cumbersome. I have suggested that MPs should be able to access the library digitally from home. For instance, if I want to search the catalogue, I have to physically go to the library and do the search there. I have told the parliamentary affairs minister in the past that MPs at least should be allowed to search from their residences. In fact, anybody should be able to.”
The library allows access to 1.8 million journals, periodicals, newspapers, and books.