This has become an annual affair. School students are forced to do nearly half the year without many important textbooks because local publishers given the contracts to print them are unable to keep deadlines. The fact that some publishers have yet again missed the deadline is not as atrocious as the other fact that this is a routine annual affair. Just this should have been indication that something is rotten in the state of textbook publishing of the government of Manipur. Yet, the stakes apparently are so high that nobody in the government has ever thought of corrective measures so that this sorry episode as we are witnessing today is made a cyclic affair. The Board of Secondary Education Manipur, BOSEM`™s, recent statement that six publishers who have not been able to deliver their goods would be penalised, though welcomed must stand to more scrutiny. What was the nature of the kind of the pre-contract assessments made by which these six publishers were among the selected for the contracts in the first place? The BOSEM must be made to answer this and many other questions related to the matter.
It is known that publishers make intensive lobbies with officials for these contracts, and many of these publishers do not even have the appropriate printing machines needed to print books in the volumes called for. Yet they end up garnering these contracts. The practice would be, after winning the contracts, they would sub-contract their orders for a share of the profit to other printers for the printing job. Their expertise hence is basically to lobby with the government to garner these contracts, in other word, be the deal makers but not in the actual sense the publishers. Needless to say a lot of lucre change hands in these contract negotiations and many contract givers as well as contract getters end up much richer. Robbed in the process are the taxpayers. But the robbery is not all, for as we are witnessing now, children are made to suffer even worse by having to study without textbooks for prolonged periods.
But this is not the only feature of the rot that goes into the book printing contract distribution. Again for obvious benefits to the officials and a coterie of contractors, printing specifications are determined in arbitrary manners that defy logic. As for instance, in one year two-colour prints on every page of the textbook would be made mandatory, privileging only publishers with the facilities to do so. The specification would not be for full multi-colour for then the pricing would become beyond budget. A second colour introduced in this sense becomes merely a strategy of elimination competitors so that only a few are left for the government to deal with. This is not in any way to enhance the look or the content of the books. It is anybody`™s guess again why this is done. However, less equipped publishers would still bid and win some of these contracts, using sometimes coercive influences they command on officials. The end result is the same `“ delays in the publication of textbooks.
It is high time the government stopped pretending it does not know what is happening and took some positive actions. Let it institute a high level inquiry into the entire affair and bring out the whole truth once and for all. This should not be with the objective of witch hunting but to correct future course of things so that the corruption nexus between contract givers and publishers who contest for these contract are put to an end. As in any market situation, only ensuring a free and fair competition would ensure the best is brought to the fore. And such a condition has been precisely what has been missing in the Manipur government textbook contract distribution system. It has been marked by arbitrary decisions of officials whose palms are obviously liberally greased by contractors seeking their favours. A structure must now be evolved to ensure that such practices are eliminated, or if this is not possible, controlled to the extent possible. It is interesting that an individual has already filed a Public Interest Litigation, PIL, seeking reasons behind this year`™s delay in school textbooks hitting the market. While this is encouraging, the filth goes much deeper than the immediate reason for this year`™s delay, which probably will be resolved easily by blacklisting some publishers only. However the corrupt system would remain untouched so that next year, and many more years thereafter, would still continue to be ravaged by the scourge.