Nepali Times, 30 SEPTEMBER - 6 OCTOBER
Balancing The Books :
Booksellers and students are worst affected by the controversial new
tariff on books
usual bustle at Mandala Book Point, Jamal, has been absent
for the last couple of months but this is the fourth time Yogendra
Gurung, lecturer of Population Studies at Tribubhan University, has come
for books crucial to his research. “I have to work with the most recent
information on statistics related to ethnicity, migration and conflict
but I have not been able to get hold of the books,” he says.
recent budget imposed a 6.5 percent customs duty on all imported books.
According to the government, the aim was to encourage Nepal’s printing
industry. But the only clear impact to date has been booksellers’
refusal to sell books that include the customs tax. The result: volumes
worth Rs 20 million have been gathering dust at customs on the
Nepal-India border since 16 July.
are suffering huge losses,” says Madhab Lal Maharjan, general secretary
of the National Booksellers and Publishers Association of Nepal (NBPAN).
Most affected are students of higher education since an estimated
two-thirds of their textbooks, including medical, management and
computer science books, come from abroad. “Students usually ask us for
discounts on books but with the new duty imposed they will never be able
to afford the books,” says Kiran Gurung of National Book Centre,
have said no to so many customers in the past few days that the number
of people coming in to ask for textbooks has decreased considerably,” he
Ministry of Education and Sports Joint Secretary Laba Prasad Tripathi
says, “Concerned authorities need to understand that in a country where
less than one percent of the total population can read, taxing books
would have negative effects.” He added, “That does not mean we are not
doing anything about it now.
process has been initiated and we are waiting for response from
ministries.” Officials in the revenue division at the Ministry of
Finance told us they are aware of the widespread dissatisfaction at the
decision and are working to respond to it. But they refused to provide
Maharjan of NBPAN says, “The government is investing billions in
education to fulfil the Millennium Development Goals and to achieve
education for all. The recent decision to tax books only takes them
further away from their purpose.”
a new initiative, the government’s Janak Education Materials Centre has
started publishing grammar books for secondary schools in collaboration
with India’s Oxford University Press. Prior to the budget announcement
these books would have faced a 10 percent custom tax, which was levied
on all Nepali books published outside the country and imported in bulk.
the government is so concerned about promoting national printing
industries,” Maharjan asks, “why not encourage institutions, NGOs,
government and semigovernment entities to print in Nepal? Moreover, why
not provide the technology and feasible environment to print foreign
NBPAN argues the new levy on books violates the spirit of the UNESCO
constitution, Charter of Books and an international treaty called the
Florence Agreement, which all recommend against such taxes.
Nepal hasn’t signed UNESCO’s constitution or the Florence Agreement but
as a member state of the body, the government should respect the
objectives of its constitution, reasons NBPAN.
Member of the government’s Revenue Consultative Committee, Bishwambher
Pyakurel, says it’s not too late to reverse the tax. “The policymakers
have to understand that taking the provision back will not bring the
government’s credibility down. That said, as a member of the
recommending body I can assure you that we have been talking to all
concerned and the reaction has been quite positive.”
Maharjan also says policymakers have been sympathetic but, “That is not
enough. It has been more than two months since the decision. We want to
see action and we want to see some changes in policy.”
country in the world taxes books. With this recent decision one wonders
if the government is in so much trouble that it is collecting revenues
by taxing knowledge,” he added.
Back at Jamal’s Mandala Book Point, Yogendra Gurung will return home
empty-handed again. “The university library does not have the budget to
buy the books. That is why we buy
personal copies, no matter how expensive they may be. Now we can’t even
do that. What more can I do than wait until the government decides to
take the book tariff off?”
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