A controversy has broken out recently with the Kerala government’s decision to outsource the printing of textbooks, instead of ignoring the proposals to enhance the efficiency of state-owned Kerala Books and Publications Society (KBPS), which was created exclusively to print textbooks.
The opposition alleges that the decision will cost the exchequer dear as the price of one textbook printed at market rates is said to be five times the rate at which government presses print the same book. According to representatives of teachers’ organisations, each textbook would end up costing the government Rs 15 to Rs 20, whereas the same books could have been printed at government facilities for a maximum of Rs 5.
According to the organisations, 1,15,26,289 books have been distributed to schools. This leaves 1,29,08,247 books still to be printed. It is this task that the government now wishes to outsource. The outsourcing will be done by first handing over the job to the Kerala State Centre for Advanced Printing & Training (C-APT), which will in turn outsource the job to private printers. This is the same way textbooks for the higher secondary classes are being printed.
C-APT director Sajith Vijayaraghavan said the government had placed an order for 43.35 lakh books with C-APT.
“The Kerala Books and Publications Society (KBPS) and government presses will print as much as they can, we will handle the rest,” he said.
Kerala School Teachers Association president KN Sukumaran said that given the situation now, it was doubtful whether the printing and distribution of textbooks would be completed by August in time for the first term examinations.
Meanwhile, Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)] State secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan has demanded a comprehensive investigation into the alleged corruption. In a statement, Balakrishnan also sought urgent measures to make textbooks available to the students.
The government had entrusted printing of 60 lakh textbooks with its own presses. However, no step was taken to make the necessary material available on time.
Printing in the government presses was suspended later to facilitate the handover of printing to private presses. Despite this, the government presses were able to print as many as 11 lakh textbooks. The printing order has been given to a private press for six times the cost at which the books could have been printed by the Kerala Books and Publications Society (KBPS).
All this clearly showed that the government presses were discouraged from completing their work on time to give the work order to the private sector, the CPI(M) leader alleged.
Balakrishnan said there was also the allegation that the tender process lacked transparency. As a result, one of the bidding presses has approached the Kerala High Court. Going by present trends, the textbooks will not be ready anytime soon.