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Changing face of Bihar’s ‘least literate’ district: Now, every village has access to a library

Purnea DM Rahul Kumar began a book drive in January 2020, and within 21 months, libraries have been set up to reach all 230 gram panchayats and 7 urban local bodies.

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New Delhi: Purnea has been among the least literate districts in Bihar for the past two censuses, in 2001 and 2011. But the district administration is trying to change that, and to that end, has set up public libraries to cover its 230 gram panchayats and seven urban local bodies (ULBs), thanks to a 21-month-long book drive launched by Purnea DM Rahul Kumar.

The drive, called ‘Abhiyaan Kitab-Daan’, began on 25 January 2020. Kumar had invited people to donate books from across the country to facilitate the setting up of public libraries in the district, and a total of 1.26 lakh books were collected through this initiative.

In a tweet last Tuesday, Kumar released a list of 14 prakhands (blocks) where the libraries are located.

According to Girindranath Jha, a journalist-turned-farmer in Purnea, the drive hit the ground running as Kumar and his team received around 400 books on the first day itself. In an article for NDTV, Jha noted that the district’s Collectorate Auditorium served as the starting point for the initiative.

Exactly a year from the start of the drive, on 25 January 2021, the first library in the district was opened in Parora village, located in Krityanand Nagar Block, just over 10 km from the DM’s office. At the time, DM Kumar announced that the administration had received over 60,000 books despite the Covid pandemic.

“Abhiyaan Kitab-Daan is DM Rahul Kumar’s brainchild, as he wanted us to collect as many books as possible to develop libraries,” District Education Officer Sayambabu Ram told ThePrint. “The libraries will be crucial for children, especially girls, to spend time reading after school.”

The DEO added that over 4,700 people had donated the 1.26 lakh books collected so far, while over 200 people actively volunteered over these last 21 months.

According to the list released by Kumar, the Banmankhi block has the largest number of books donated to it at over 13,000, while the block with the lowest number is Srinagar, at just under 5,000.

A panchayat library in Bihar’s Purnea | Twitter | @rahulias6

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Literacy rates in Purnea

In Census 2001, Purnea’s literacy rate was 35.51 per cent, which was 12 percentage points below Bihar’s average of 47.53 per cent.

Ten years later, the district literacy rate jumped to 52.49 per cent, compared to the state average of 63.82. But despite this improvement, Purnea remained the least literate district in Bihar.

According to DEO Ram, with the delay in the 2021 census due to Covid, data from 2011 served as the primary reference point in the district authorities’ attempts to drive up literacy. He claimed the literacy rate has increased by roughly 10 per cent in the past decade, and will continue to do so in the near future.

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Gram panchayat libraries in other states

Purnea is not the only district to focus on expansion of literacy through panchayat libraries. Odisha, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have also implemented such initiatives in the past.

In 2006, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government in power in Tamil Nadu at the time announced a landmark scheme called the ‘Anaithu Grama Anna Marumalarchi Thittam’, under which a library was supposed to be set up in every village panchayat.

However, a 2013 report by The New Indian Express noted that a large number of these libraries are no longer functioning.

The Karnataka Public Libraries Act, 1965, meanwhile, formulated and implemented the setting up of public libraries in the state.

The state has over 5,000 public libraries currently, and continues to host numerous initiatives for child literacy, which was impacted by the pandemic.

In Odisha, the Sambalpur district administration had begun work on setting up libraries in its 138 gram panchayats prior to the nationwide Covid lockdown in March 2020.

While the initial reported target for the inauguration of the libraries was July 2020, the district administration had put out a tender call for furniture supply in its district libraries in February 2021.

(Edited by Rachel John)

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