“I just can’t believe it, a new tax on books! Imported books will be more expensive. This is unacceptable. Absolutely weird!” that’s the reaction of my 20 year old sister, who is an avid bookworm.
A couple of lecturers from Cotton College just shook their heads in disbelief, and laughed derisively when I asked them how welcome was our new finance minister’s idea of helping local publishers by raising the cost of imported books.
“If you’re going to be a good student, you will want the latest books on your subject. And many of these are technical or subject specific books with limited appeal that makes no market sense for local publishers. So this lady is basically discouraging learning.”
Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s proposal to slap a 5 per cent customs duty on imported books in order to encourage the domestic publishing industry has not gone down well with book lovers. Publishers feel the government could help the publishing industry with some more concrete measures, like reducing the cost of paper.
Sitharaman proposed a “5% customs duty on imported books, to promote the domestic publishing and printing industry”.
A newspaper also reported that from tweet reactions terming the proposal “not cool”, and a “crazy step” that would not help the domestic publishing industry, Twitterati appealed to the Finance Minister to withdraw the proposal.
Veteran journalist, Kanchan Gupta termed it a “bad idea”.
He tweeted: “It is a bad idea to tax books. That is why Customs Duty of 10% on imported books was exempted by successive Governments. In keeping with the spirit of not taxing knowledge, @FinMinIndia @nsitharaman would do well to withdraw the proposal to impose 5% import duty on books.”
Noted feminist, publisher and author Urvashi Butalia said she did not feel the proposal to slap 5 per cent customs duty on imported books would help the publishing industry much as “a lot of foreign books are printed locally”.
A news agency featured the views of Butalia, who is co-founder of Zubaan publishing house. She said the government needs to think of the domestic publishing industry “holistically” in order to help it grow.
An important aspect hurting the publishing industry was the 12 per cent reverse GST that is imposed on royalties paid to authors by publishers – which reduces the margins of publishers.
“India has always had an open import policy for books of educational value – with the idea that knowledge should circulate freely. Readers too have the right to access books of knowledge, and the budget should also respect the reader’s right by keeping books cheaper. Book shop owners too need to be kept in the picture.
“There is a lot the government can do to help the industry grow. No government, not just the BJP, has treated publishing with the seriousness it deserves,” she said, adding that because it is not treated as an industry, publishers are unable to get bank loans.
“These are the real things to be addressed,” Butalia said.
“I can’t say if the Finance Minister’s proposal will help the domestic publishing industry. If the government wanted to, then there are other ways to help – like making paper cheaper. The cost of paper has gone up so many times in the last 10 years that it is getting more and more expensive to print books,” she said.
It would be really helpful if the government slashes the price of paper.
The government could boost the domestic publishing industry by helping publishers participate in book fairs ,giving assistance in book distribution and providing library grants.
Since most academic books are bought by libraries, the cutting back on library grants has left libraries, which buy academic books in bulk, with no funds to buy books.
Coming back to the main issue, some of my friends just shrugged and turned back to their shiny little cell-phone screens. What books? They don’t give a damn one way or another as long as they get wi-fi and enough bandwidth to play Clash of Clans. Who knows, this is what the new government of India is aiming at: a dumbing down of the electorate!
Mohit Brahma, Green Valley, Guwahati
Mohit is a college student who calls himself a barefoot journalist.