The July 16 national budget that imposed a 6.5 per cent customs duty on all imported books has caught the attention of the students, publishers, writers and booksellers. It has been reported that textbooks worth two crores for grade one to the university level have been held up at the customs offices in Bhairahawa and Birgunj. Earlier to the budget announcement, the books imported from India and other countries were subjected to no such restrictions. But thanks to the government’s new decision, the students and the organisations concerned have to now bear an additional financial burden. The National Booksellers and Publishers Association of Nepal (NBPAN) has taken a strong exception to the imposition and have threatened not to accept the consignments of books until the government withdrew the duty. Since 80 per cent of the reference books are imported from abroad, there will soon be a shortage of books in the country. Book traders have also accused the government of violating the UNESCO statute despite Nepal being a member of this world body. The statute clearly lays emphasis on “unrestricted pursuit” of education and in the “free exchange of ideas and knowledge.”
Given the fact that the customs duty on the books will burden the middle class in particular, the NBPAN’s concerns are valid. The idea of new tax as it is was bad enough in the first place, but even if the government had to charge extra, it should have been sensitive to the declining purchasing power of Nepali rupee. The government should immediately find a way to reduce the burden it has imposed on the commoners. To start with, the consignments that arrived before the budget was announced should be released under the old arrangement. The government should design an effective policy to bring all those books for distribution or sale as early as possible. After all, education generates knowledge that empowers society, and any obstacle to knowledge dissemination should be appropriately dealt with. Instead of burdening the stakeholders, it would be better if the government focussed on giving them additional facilities so that the process of knowledge transfer is rendered smooth. It should also spare the education sector any kind of unnecessary bureaucratic hassle to which the Nepalis have been subjected to for just too long.