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Whip to get free books for libraries

New Delhi, Aug. 17: The Centre has dusted off a quirky, 58-year-old law to satisfy a rediscovered appetite for free books.

It is giving more teeth to the Delivery of Books and Newspapers (Public Libraries) Act, 1954, to force publishers to send free copies of their new books to four premier government libraries.

Under the act, a copy of every book published in India, whether a crime thriller or a tome on political history, has to be sent to each of these libraries. Yet, only 30 per cent of the books published make their way to the National Library in Calcutta, Delhi Public Library, Connemara Public Library in Chennai and the State Central Library in Mumbai.

“The act came into being after Unesco asked all countries to identify a library that will have all the books published in that country for the sake of the coming generations,” said H.K. Kaul, member of the National Mission for Libraries.

In 1956, the act was amended to bring newspapers and magazines under its ambit. Under its provisions, if any publisher fails to send a book within 30 days of its publication to any of the designated libraries, the library can move court. It also provides for a fine of Rs 50 plus the cost of the book.

The proposed amendment, sent to the law ministry for clearance before it is placed before the cabinet, looks to raise the fine. “We cannot reveal exactly how much it is, but it will surely be several times the cost of the book,” a culture ministry official said.

Initially, a provision for imprisonment up to three months was suggested but this was dropped after an outcry from publishers. Another suggestion — about cancelling errant publishers’ registration and banning all government purchases from them — too has been scrapped.

“Increasing the penalty is not the answer. The government has to offer a lucrative incentive to the publisher,” Kaul said.

However, others say only stringent action will have an effect. “Publishing is such a lucrative business that a mere monetary fine will not make a difference,” a National Library official said.

The National Library, after much pushing and cajoling, now gets around 40,000 free books annually. Asked why it does not buy the rest of the books to meet its responsibility towards the reader, officials say the library lacks an earmarked fund to do that and therefore buys Indian publications only if its old copies get damaged.

The proposed amendment has reduced the number of libraries a publisher must replenish. It says one copy has to be sent to the National Library and another to any one of five designated “zonal” libraries according to the publisher’s location. The zonal libraries — one each in the north, south, east, west and northeast — are being identified.

The government wants to keep its side of the bargain too, by ensuring timely publication of the national bibliography — an annual list of all books published in the country and provided to the designated libraries.

Sent to libraries across India and abroad, the list gives the publishers publicity. India is the tenth-largest book supplier in the world.

The proposed amendment will also bring e-books under the ambit of the act.