More than eight branches shut, an unrelenting protest by 75 employees over lack of salaries, a funds crunch, and at the centre of it all, one of Delhi’s oldest municipal libraries and a BJP leader mired in allegations of corruption and mismanagement.
With a sit-in outside the Hardayal Municipal Library in Chandni Chowk, the employees have been demanding the resignation of Poonam Parashar Jha – the library’s secretary who was previously a BJP councillor and the party’s Delhi Mahila Morcha president.
While protesters claim that they haven’t received their dues since January 2021, five people, including the BJP leader's son Arya Dev, were appointed and given salaries after Poonam Parashar Jha took over as secretary in September last year, show documents seen by Newslaundry.
Protesters allege this was in violation of a Delhi High Court order which had put on hold all fresh appointments.
However, the library’s acting librarian Rajendra Singh Jatav said the five appointments were only for the position of “trainee”, who are paid anywhere between “Rs 10,000 and Rs 15,000”. But documents and cheques seen by Newslaundry show that these were formal designations and a higher amount was transacted as salary, ranging from Rs 39,156 to Rs 70,000.
Jatav also called the allegations of corruption “baseless” and blamed the irregular salaries on the Community Services Department of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi failing to release annual grants to the library since 2021. “Grant for two financial years, 2021-22 and 2022-23, that comes down to around Rs 6.5 crore, has been pending at the MCD’s end.”
The library’s 96 employees had started a protest in June last year but 20 of them resumed their duties in July last year after assurance that an inquiry panel would be formed by the MCD to look into the allegations. A five-member panel, set up in July last year, has submitted its report but it is yet to be made public.
With the MCD releasing a grant of Rs 50 lakh for bonafide employees, the 20 staff who resumed work received salaries for two months but haven’t been paid since then.
Rajendra Singh Jatav was also among these 20 employees. “How long can one sit on a protest like this? For us also, it has been more than 20 months since we received our salaries.”
“Representatives from the bank have been visiting my home. I had to show them a clipping of a protest that appeared in a newspaper to assure that I was indeed getting no pay,” said another employee who had joined work last year.
How is the library coping with a large chunk of employees sitting on protest?
“Around 8-10 branches have been shut down. Office work including filing is being managed by two employees at the most,” said Rajendra Singh Jatav.
The branches that have been shut include those in Rohini, Bholanath Nagar, and Shahdara.
Employees have also alleged the siphoning off of furniture and books awarded to a library branch as part of a CSR initiative to premises owned by Anil Jha, Jha’s husband and former Kirari BJP MLA.
Before the probe panel was set up, the staff repeatedly made such claims in letters to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, Delhi Lieutenant Governor V K Saxena, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, officials of the MCD, and the Chandni Chowk SHO.
“Non-payment of salaries for 17 months means that we can neither pay the school fees of our children nor afford daily expenses in a city like Delhi with even moneylenders now denying to give us any loan,” stated a letter to the Delhi LG.
Employees also alleged that they were threatened and intimidated for trying to escalate the issue. “The only work the current secretary has done is to harass the employees. It was a dictatorship of a certain kind with arbitrary orders being passed, be it show-cause notices to employees or orders regarding some permanent employees being downgraded to temporary staff,” said Anita, a sanitation worker at the library.
There are three categories of workers at the library – multi-tasking, daily wage and sanitation workers. Around 28 employees recognised as permanent were relegated to temporary grade last year.
While the probe report is yet to be made public, a senior MCD employee familiar with the investigation said “some irregularities” were found and there was a lack of transparency. “Whatever allegations employees have levelled is their internal matter.”
Suman, another sanitation worker, who has been working with the library for the last 18 years, told Newslaundry, “I was asked by Poonam Parashar Jha to do household chores at her residence for eight days in October 2021. I did everything from cooking to cleaning and when I resisted I was told that transfer orders will be issued.”
Anita and Suman have filed a complaint with the Delhi Safai Karamchari Aayog as well over alleged ill-treatment by library authorities.
Set up in 1912, the library is trying to keep pace with changing times.
Photos of its current secretary and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are among latest additions to those on the walls, including freedom fighter Sohanlal Pathak and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.
On March 10, 2022, at a function organised by Poonam Parashar Jha, a children’s section, called ‘Baal Pustakaalay’, was launched along with the Atal Gyan Kendra – a computer learning centre with 30 desktops.
During a visit to the library on February 1, the children’s section was empty and there were two students at the Atal Gyan Kendra. Inside the main reading room, one could see around 20 students.
“Books available here are not relevant; even for those who are preparing for the CS exam, the edition available here dates back to 2013,” said a student who claimed to be a regular visitor.
The Chandni Chowk branch currently has 300 active members, each of them paying an annual fee of Rs 2,500 to get books issued.
Since the library is largely dependent on grants, CSR funds help it sustain to a certain extent. For instance, CSR funds from the power company Power Grid ensured that the library could replace some of its old almirahs. The library is now waiting for a CSR fund of Rs 2 crore announced by Union Minister Nitin Gadkari during a visit last year.
With a BJP leader at its helm, there is an ostensible attempt at saffronisation of the institute. In April last year, union minister Ajay Kumar Mishra was invited as a guest at a seminar titled ‘Article 35A, Article 370 and Kashmir Tragedy’. At this session, some employees, including Anita and Suman, tried to convey their concerns to the minister but were allegedly handed out termination letters on grounds of misconduct. “No one has come to see our zakhm (injury) in the last 22 months. Now, aren’t we allowed to speak in an independent country,” asked Anita.
Asked for comment by Newslaundry, Poonam Parashar Jha said, “My work here has largely been that of distribution so, as far as salaries are concerned, you should check with the MCD. The issue of delay in salaries has been there since 2016.”
On the alleged illegal appointments, she said, “These appointments (in January 2022) were done for the position of trainee. An inquiry had been set up and the report should be out soon. We have already responded to such queries.”
Asked about her son, she said, “I have already submitted my response before the inquiry committee and am waiting for their decision in this regard. When an inquiry has been set up already, I don't think there is any need to revisit these issues.”
Poonam Parashar Jha's son, Arya Dev, could not be contacted for comment.
On the allegations against him, Anil Jha said, “These claims have no basis. As per the constitution of the library, one is allowed to undertake expansion of the library and this learning center is a branch of the Hardayal library at my private property. There have been instances earlier as well when library branches have been opened at private residences of individuals. It’s a social service from our side.”
Asked why the board of this learning centre is named ‘Anand Granthalaya’ instead of Hardayal Municipal Library, the former BJP MLA said, “A reading room on the first floor by the name of Anand Granthalaya was already being run. And then we gave the space to this library, which was free of cost. So what’s the problem? Furniture received as part of the CSR initiative didn’t arrive exclusively here but was sent to the Patel Nagar branch as well.”
On Arya Dev’s appointment, he said, “Why didn't someone ask the Collegium before elevating current CJI Chandrachud, whose father was also the Chief Justice of India?”
While the offer letter for Arya Dev talks about the position of assistant caretaker, Jha and her husband told Newslaundry that the hiring was for the position of trainee.
On allegations of an employee being asked to do household chores, Anil Jha said, “Why didn’t she file an FIR? Why is that these women are only alleging harassment and rape threat? Police understand all this. Only problem is that no one wants to work.”
A source in the MCD's Community Services Department didn’t elaborate the reason behind delay in disbursal of grants and salaries. “With an internal feud going on, we were not sure about releasing the grant.”
Meanwhile, Shami Kapoor, who retired in July after 35 years of service last year, has become the latest employee to join the agitation. For him, it’s been a double whammy of sorts. He has neither received his salary since April 2021 nor post-retirement benefits such as gratuity. “I have written four letters…but didn’t get any response. Today, I don't have money to buy medicines.”
Don't have money to buy medicines, says Shami Kapoor