Textbooks worth a whopping Rs 120 crore are sold every year in Kashmir, yet the Jammu and Kashmir government has failed to monitor their prices resulting in fleecing of parents by nexus of publishers and private school owners.
According to sources, the nexus is such "deep rooted and lucrative" that now private schools have started selling books in their premises in order to cash in on the opportunity.
"The sale of books and uniforms by schools is violation of Education Act as it allows the schools to render only services of teaching, not business of selling books and uniforms," said a senior Education Department official.
The market survey reveals that students of class 1st enrolled in private school have to pay Rs 2000 to 3000 for books which otherwise would cost meager Rs 500, if the commission charged by schools and publishers are cut out.
According to sources the prices are fixed by the publishers and school owners as per their sweet wish. "And more often than not the publishers in nexus with private school managements fix the prices."
"So deep is this nexus and so high are the prices that textbook of first standard whose cost could not be more than Rs 40 is being sold at Rs 250 with both publisher and school management sharing the undue profits," sources said.
In absence of any overview or check by any government agency, the publishers, according to sources, enjoy full freedom to fix the prices as per their will.
"The school managements get huge percentage of commission for endorsing these books to their students," sources said.
"There is no accountability. Publishers mostly from outside state send books with higher MRPs. A book whose cost would be around Rs 30 is sent here with MRP tag of Rs 300, while their agents here set the murky deal with school management and fleece the gullible parents who have no other option than to pay," sources said.
As per Kashmir booksellers association there is turnover of textbooks of more than Rs 100 crore recorded in Kashmir per annum.
However they blame the outside publishers for promoting corrupt trade practices.
"Outside publishers expand their business by presenting gifts and money. And this illegal amount is recovered by these publishers by increasing the rates proportionate with the amount spend during promotion," they allege adding, "Rates are increased by putting stickers, stamps or by screen printing. And unfortunately there is no government agency that can ascertain the actual MRP of books sold in the market."
Chairman of Joint Committee of Private Schools, ShowkatChowdhary, said that schools should desist from indulging in sale of textbooks.
"It is unethical on part of schools to sell books, they can at best recommend books and let parents decide from where they want to purchase them," he said.
Joint Controller Legal Metrology Kashmir, Tanveer Ahmad, said that there is no agency which fixes or regulates the price of textbooks.
"We can at best take action when the MRP or rates are tempered," he said adding that however they have warned schools not to indulge in sale of textbooks as it is against the spirit of Education Act.
However, he admitted that there are many complaints about the prices of books.
"Recently we took action against a school in EllahiBagh after parents complained about the exorbitant prices of books," he added.
A senior JK Board of School Education official said that the government has now decided to subscribe BOSE recommended books from 5th standard in all schools "which would hit this mafia being run by private schools and publishers."