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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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Wet threat to rare books

Over five million rare and one-off books and items stored in the underground vaults of the Rs 100-crore Bhasha Bhavan building and the old annexe of the National Library are in danger of being damaged by water seepage.

At risk of being destroyed are original manuscripts of Tagore and Netaji, their letters and rare, one-off world maps.

The books and manuscripts, preserved in the two-storeyed underground vaults, were ruined after water seeped through the walls and flooded the room. At the old annexe, the ground floor, which houses the maps and rare books departments, is water-bound.

The air-conditioned vaults of the recently-built Bhasha Bhavan were specially constructed to preserve books and keep out moisture.

Questions have been raised about the quality of the construction job of Bhasha Bhavan. The Central Public Works Department (CPWD) officers said once the rain stops, they will need at least seven more days to bring the situation under control.

'Water seeped through the walls. We are doing everything possible on an emergency basis to control the situation,' said Sudhendu Mondol, director of the National Library.

Employees first noticed water seeping through the walls on Thursday. They did their best with polythene and tarpaulin sheets, but the damage was already done.

'The vault in the basement is specially designed to keep out moisture and preserve rare books. There must have been faults in the construction, which caused so many books to be damaged,' said Saibal Chakraborty, secretary of the National Library Staff Association.

'The building was thrown open for use this year, before putting it through any tests. We demand a Central Bureau of Investigation probe,' Chakraborty asserted. The CPWD, responsible for maintenance, claimed the faults are minor.

'The pipes for the hotline of the air-conditioning system are responsible for the fault. There were minor voids in the walls during the construction. Water is seeping through these pockets. The 100,000-sq-ft basement of the building is the largest in this region, and defects occurred only at one or two points. We are injecting cement into the walls with flaws,' said D.B. Dutta, CPWD engineer in charge of Bhasha Bhavan.

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