New Delhi: A rule put in place immediately after the first war of Indian independence in 1857 looked like it would come in the way of India’s emerging reputation as an offshore destination for publishing, but the story has ended well with the government’s intervention.
Delhi customs officials held up a consignment of books being exported to Uganda, quoting a rule originally designed to curb the publication of materials arousing nationalism. The Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867, requires that every book published in India should have the name and address of the publisher printed in it.
The export consignment of Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd was held up by the officials for violation of this rule. The Indian publisher was shipping more than 800,000 copies of various books worth $50,000 (Rs 22.7 lakh) printed for a Ugandan publisher, which had specifically asked that the name and address of the Indian firm not be printed in it.
The Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) has since clarified that export consignments of books will be exempt from the rule. A DGFT official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the rule could be applied only to books published for domestic consumption. “When the rule was made, nobody could have thought of outsourcing,” the official said.
S.K. Ghai, chairman and managing director of Sterling Publishers, said: “We had received an order from a publisher in Africa for printing of books, who in turn had received the order from another party in Africa. The publisher who outsourced the printing work to us did not want us to print our name and address on the books.”
Ghai confirmed that he had received a communication from DGFT and that the consignment is in the process of being released. According to him, print outsourcing is already big business for Indian publishers. “One-third of the revenue of our company came from such work last year,” he added.
With the printing business flourishing in India during the 19th century, the administration made an attempt to put together a collection of books and other publications emanating from various printing presses. Accordingly, the directors of the East India Co. issued an instruction that copies of every “important and interesting work” published in India should be despatched to England to be deposited in the library of India House.
An initial proposal for voluntary registration of publications failed and, therefore, the East India Co. felt it necessary to establish a system of compulsory sale of three copies of each work in India to the government. “To achieve this purpose, a Bill was introduced for the regulation of printing presses and newspapers for the preservation of copies of books and periodicals containing news printed in the whole of India and for the registration of such books and periodicals containing news,” says the introduction to the Act.
In an article titled “The Press Act: Need for a thorough overhaul”, K.G. Joglekar, former Registrar of Newspapers, wrote on the Press Information Bureau website that the anomalies begin with the preamble to the Act itself. “It says that the Act is ‘for the regulation of printing presses and newspapers, for the preservation of copies of books and newspapers printed in India and for the registration of such books and newspapers’. In today’s conditions, such clubbing together of newspapers and books is ridiculous because their needs are totally different,” he said.
Joglekar wrote that it needed to be understood that, in the second half of the 19th century, the British wanted to curb the press in India. “It honestly felt that freedom of the press would result in weakening the roots of foreign rule. Their fears were not unfounded. Almost all national leaders used their newspapers to arouse a feeling of nationalism in the people and to prepare them for participation in the struggle for freedom. The Press and Registration of Books Act is a relic of that era,” he said.