In their endeavour to educate their children, April is the month when parents are subjected to a hard lesson of their own — being forced to buy books and stationery at rates that carry a mark-up of at least 30% over and above the profit margins of both the publisher and the seller.
The cost pinches, and parents let their anguish be known with sporadic protests against booksellers, and silently cursing schools for prescribing a math book that costs Rs 250, when another with the same content published by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) is available at Rs 50. HT decided to tackle the matter only to discover that as against the perception of booksellers fleecing parents — though that remains true too — the fleecing equation also allegedly involves schools. But, such is the fear of harassment that parents refuse to come on record, even though visits to bookshops reveals the nexus in its full glory.
How it works: Recommendation and commission
The sellers allege that schools charge a commission — usually 30% — for recommending a specific publisher. The publisher factors this into the cost and we have a situation where parents shell out Rs 250 for a book of alphabet. “Commission is also charged on the stationery that is usually dumped on to parents, along with the book set,” said a member of the Chandigarh Bookseller Association, though he did not want to be named yet, fearing consequences from the publishers and schools. Hardeep Kaur of Surya Book Depot in Sector 38 further told HT, “I am a smallscale wholesaler. I cannot afford to supply books to private schools as they ask for a huge commission. Even if we do get to sell for a private school, the publisher gives us a discount of only 25% against the normal 40%.”
What schools say
“No good school entertains booksellers, but parents prefer those schools which exploit them in the name of books and admission fee,” remarked Rakesh Kapoor, director, Bal Niketan Model Senior Secondary School, Sector 37. “These days getting a medical seat is very expensive; the media should check corruption from top to bottom and not only schools,” he advised.
ABS Sidhu, director-principal, Saupin’s Schools, said, “Parents are free to buy books from wherever they choose. The book list is available on our website and is prominently displayed at the premises.” “We do not entertain such publishers and never approve overly priced books,” said Geetika Sethi, director, The British School, Panchkula. “The good old publishers are not involved in the nexus; but new players in the market are increasing the prices.”
Loophole with book lists
Interestingly, parents are given the list of books prescribed - at best only a week before the new session starts - creating an artificial scarcity of time and pressuring parents to finally approach the recommended bookseller only. Parents of a child studying at a prominent school in a northern sector told HT, again on the condition of anonymity, “I have had to buy stationery worth Rs 1,500 as even that is prescribed from a particular shop of a particular brand by the school. If we do not do that, even the children face harassment in school at the hands of staff.”
‘Govt schools have this too’
In government schools, for subjects like languages and computers, private publishers supply books and claim to be paying 10% commission to officials of the education department for inclusion of their book on the final list. This is vehemently denied by all officials in the education department. “The money to be deposited in the account of the students (to buy books) and books supplied in schools are deliberately delayed by the education department to promote books of private publishers,” alleged a member of Chandigarh Bookseller Association who did not want to be named, adding that government schoolchildren were thus left to study without books for months.