Bad medicine

Following finance minister Ram Saran Mahat’s budget speech, when he reiterated the government’s commitment to allow private sector into school textbook publishing business, the employees of government-owned Janak Educational Material Centre (JEMC) have threatened to go on an indefinite strike. This government decision, JEMC employees allege, goes against the earlier promise of education and sports minister Pradip Nepal not to act against the interest of JEMC. Some months back, a 16-day strike at JEMC had forced Nepal to agree that private publishers be kept out of textbook publishing.

Even if the government decision is the result of JEMC inefficiency to publish textbooks and

make them available to students and teachers around the country on time, which is an indirect indictment of the cumbersome JEMC bureaucracy, it cannot wash its hands of instituting reforms in order to bring it back into shape. Hence this government decision raises a serious question about the relevance of JEMC. Its continued existence cannot be justified if what it does is done many times better by private publishers, as seems to be the common perception. But if the government realises that it should provide textbooks to needy students at an affordable price, the duty which profit-oriented private publishers can hardly be entrusted with, the need of the hour is to put JEMC in order, not to cripple it by depriving it of a large part of its duty.