Friends Enterprises, Ratia Road, Sardulgarh (Mansa) - the firm was non-existent till Friday. Its taxation number mentioned on invoices issued to schools - 0344-204-9033 - was actually that of a pipe-making factory owned by one Kartar Singh. On the ground, the firm "nominated to supply books to government schools" did not exist. In fact, field visits by HT revealed there was no such firm or any other publisher, for that matter, in Sardulgarh.
Suddenly on Friday, the Mansa excise and taxation officer DK Singla told HT that a "name-change application" of the 'Guru Nanak RCC Pipe Factory, Sardulgarh' to 'Friends Enterprises' had been approved now. The application was said to be pending since February 27, a day before education minister Sikander Singh Maluka started the tendereing procedure that ultimately led to the 'book purchase scam'.
"Our inspector visited the factory some days ago and found books there," said the. Asked if the firm could use the new name before approval, he claimed, "After the firm files a plea with the excise department, it becomes liable to use the name that had been applied for."
The ETO said they had also got a query about the firm from the education department on May 20, "and we told them about the name-change plea".
Firm owner Kartar Singh issued a press statement underlining what the ETO claimed; he did not take calls, though.
Question of price
Friends Enterprises not only forced books onto schools by flashing the DPI's nomination letter but actually sold titled that had printed prices much higher than the market MRP. Even after 15% discount by the firm, the printed prices remain wide apart.
A quick check of five random books at Chandigarh shops revealed this:
Title (hardback) Price charged Market price
Robinson Crusoe 270 150
Pashu-Panchhiyan dian kahaniyan 270 200
Alif Laila dian kahaniayan 270 160
Naani ma dian baatan 250 150
Hit-Updesh dian kahaniyan 270 160