Of dancing librarians, haunted courts: A tour of the Supreme Court library

Topics Supreme Court

Since the maximum number of cases are listed on Mondays and Fridays, this is when the SC library is flooded with requests for books from all the 15 court rooms Photo: Supreme court website
"On Mondays and Fridays, our librarians dance,” quips R K Shrivastava, additional registrar of the SC library. Chuckling, he goes on to explain that since the maximum number of cases are listed on these two days, this is when the library is flooded with requests for books from all the 15 court rooms.   

“Say it is 10.28 am, and we get a call from the Chief Justice’s court that a law book is needed for reference in a case that is scheduled to start at 10.30 am. We have to make sure that the book is taken out, recorded in the system and delivered to the court room before the case is called out. Our librarians have to be on their toes — and that’s why we call them dancing librarians,” laughs Shrivastava. 

It is a Saturday morning and we are on a guided tour of the SC. And the library is one of the high points of the tour. There are two tours that run between 10am and 1pm on Saturdays, and if you book yourself on one, a member of the SC staff will guide you through its historical precincts and tell you about its various points of interest. 

A hand-painted poster of Gautam Buddha, with the Sanskrit words of “Tamaso Ma Jyotirgamaya” (Lead me from darkness to light) written below, greets you as you enter it. “This library is the main cog in a network of 31 residential libraries and 15 court room libraries. We function from 10am to 5.30pm on all days of the year barring three national holidays. And if a judge requests a book even at 7 am or 10.30 pm, we have to make sure that the requirement is met,” says Shrivastava.  A team of 85 people, including 22 librarians, comprises the spine of this gargantuan network, he adds. 

On the Saturday when we take our tour, our guide is Ravi Kant, a junior clerical staff of the SC. The campus, which is shaped like a balance scale, is relatively deserted today. A few people laze around on the lawns, warming themselves in the winter sun.  
“In wintertime, not many people come for the 10 am to 11.30 am tour.  Today 13 have come, which is rare,” says Kant. The 13 members of the tour are an all-male group of students from Andhra Pradesh.

Accompanying them is a Mr Nair and an officer with the Delhi Police. Before the tour begins, Nair tells the students not to be intimidated by the grandeur of the court and its processes and ask any questions they want.

The students oblige. The questions flow thick and fast — ranging from the working schedule of the Chief Justices’ court to whether the Chief Justice sits in any court other than Court 1 and if sitting judges can be prosecuted if they “make a mistake”. Kant answers all questions with great patience.  

When we visit the Chief Justice’s court, someone asks if the story of the courtroom being haunted is true. Rumour has it that every morning, the books in the Chief Justice’s court are found lying on the ground and have to be put back into the shelves again. 

Kant laughs and says, “This is the first time I am hearing this. You see, we have thousands of books. And then there are the large air-conditioning ducts. There are plenty of fat rats too, so if books are falling off the shelves it could be their work. It’s the rats who must be the so-called ghosts!”

The tour wends its way, away from stories of shadowy ghosts and into the sunlit lawns. We visit the museum and walk past the statue of Mother and Child, which represents Mother India and the young republic of India, and the statue of Mahatma Gandhi. And we come away feeling that the republic is in safe hands.

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