Textbook crisis in Maharashtra and Kerala

On the heels of Prime Minister’s ‘Make-in-India’ initiative, the Maharashtra government has launched a ‘Make-in-Maharashtra’ campaign. Though it seems promising on paper, the initiative is already facing challenges in its execution with state printers. One reason is, the printers feel the ministry is diverting orders to printers from other states, despite a capable print fraternity existing in Maharashtra.

29 Jul 2015 | By Mugdha Gangoli

The Maha Movement: Only on paper?

The Mumbai Mudrak Sangh (MMS) has shown complete disagreement with the state's Education Minister Vinod Tawde, for not supporting the state’s own printers, as they suffer huge losses with a significant share of text book orders being given to printers outside the state. This comes as a huge disappointment given the fact that even the Prime Minister’s home state textbook bureau's printing work is issued to its local printers.

In a press conference held on 15 July at the Patrakar Bhavan in Mumbai, the MMS sought to address the concerns of local printers over printing of a large part of Maharashtra textbooks and workbooks by printers outside the state. “We sent out official letters to the Chief Minister, Education Minister, and the Minister for Industries, on 9 July, highlighting the problems of the state’s printers. But we haven’t received a response yet,” said Medha Virkar, president of the Mumbai Mudrak Sangh.

Further, MMS' past president, Anand Limaye, added, “More than 400 printers in the state were easily furnishing the order even of around 18-crore till 2003. It was in the year 2004 that the then Education Minister, Amrish Patil suddenly released the national level tender, breaking the 40-year bonding. The scenario is prevalent even today.”

Back in the year 2004, the issue was escalated to the high court which dismissed the case on grounds of cost benefits. It also ordered the Text Books Printers Binders Association Bureau to present before them the accounts and utilise the savings in helping poor students avail books at a cheaper rate. Despite these efforts, there is no record of reduction in cost of textbooks in the state. “Doesn't this amount to contempt of high court orders?” asked Limaye during the conference.

Contradictory to the court’s reasoning, the MMS claimed the total cost of printing anywhere outside Maharashtra is costlier than local printing. “There is an unnecessary wastage of money and time in getting the raw materials into the state and sending it out for printing and getting it delivered back,” stated the MMS members unanimously.

Prevalent for over a decade now, the question ‘why’ is still unanswered. “This has resulted in a massive shutdown of many printing units in the state, ruining hundreds of dependent families,” said a worried Virkar.

For the previous financial year ended March 31, 2015, the Maharashtra State Bureau of Textbooks and Curriculum had placed an order of 2.23-crore to printers from outside Maharashtra as against the local print order of 6.86-crore. This year’s requirement of 11-crore text-books would require Rs 150-crore worth paper and Rs 36-crore in labour cost. “This is a good number to boost the state’s economy,” according to the panel at the conference.

The committee also accused the bureau of not producing and providing workbooks at cheaper rates than private publications, which ultimately proves to be a loss for poor children. “A set of self-help books, which can be made available at Rs 150 for primary class students and Rs 250 for secondary students, is sold as a branded product at Rs 100 more than it should be. These books were once available for free under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. If the state government cannot afford this now, why don’t they print it locally and sell it at a lesser cost?” questions Tushar Dhote, Sangh committee’s vice president.

The Mumbai Mudrak Sangh has announced a second press conference at Nashik, to show its dissatisfaction over the government’s negligence in helping state printers and make the Make-in-Maharashtra movement a success.

Crisis in Kerala

Meanwhile in India's most literate state, the absence of textbooks became a violent affair what with tear gas shelling, water cannons and lathi charge in Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode.

The target of the protest was Kerala's education minister, Abdu Rabb, who was blamed for the postponing of the Onam exams to 9 September in view of the delay in printing the textbooks.

There are three reasons for the textbook crisis:


Like the Maharashtra State Bureau of Textbooks and Curriculum there exists the Kerala Books and Publishing Society (KBPS). Founded in 1976, the KBPS aimed to ensure textbooks reach every student in the state at an affordable and good rate. In the past few years, unfortunately, red tapism has hit KBPS. And key positions are unoccupied.

So, KBPS received the preliminary order eight months ago, for the state's supply of 25-million textbooks for 2015. In November 2014, there was adequate time to fulfill the order.

For the initial four months, there was no movement. Finally in February, the work began. By early June, only 12-million textbooks were actually printed. On 8 June, the Kerala government decided to outsource the print jobs to the private print company.


There is one more horror story in Kerala, which is eerily similar to Maharashtra. Industry watchers like Liam O'Brien said, the state government tried to outsource the printing of millions of textbooks by "outsourcing the outsourcing". And so, they entrusted the Centre for Advanced Printing & Training (C-APT) in sourcing private print firms who would do the job with quick turnaround times, and more importantly, at a low price.

The teachers bodies in Kerala objected. In a statement issued, they pointed out: The decision of the government to outsource printing of school textbooks is set to 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.


Digitisation of textbooks is the latest mantra in the textbook space.

The non-availability of text-books is driving students towards digital version download of textbooks in a PDF format.  

Already there is a public perception that it is better that the text-books. For standard I to 10, they are already made available for download. The PDFs can be used in ‘smart classes,’ through mobiles and tablets. Plus downloading is completely free. 

For subjects with unchanged syllabus, the textbooks were obtained from the SCERT website itself.

This is a threat to print.

So, what is the way out?

Experts opine that the government should appoint a task force comprising the best officials from institutions such as the Planning Board, SCERT etc., and start planning for the printing and distribution of textbooks at least eight to nine months before the start of an academic year. Each official can be assigned a specific role and steps should be taken to make textbooks available by May every year.

We concur. There is a lack of political will in both states, perhaps the two most progressive, literate states at that, to resolve a basic need of young students.

PrintWeek India's view: At the moment, it seems the state governments in Maharashtra and Kerala don't seems serious about the issue. A periodic monitoring of the process has to be in place every year to avoid the delay.  This should include a nodal agency, which introduces a timetable for ensuring timely printing and distribution of textbooks.

The other thing is the clout and stature of the Indian print industry. Print firms in India, print, produce and distribute more than two billions textbooks every year; year on year. This is a stupendous achievement. The other day, PrintWeek India was shocked to hear a comment that "all book printers are thieves". Unfortunately, this is the view among India's premium print bodies, too. Till such frivolous comments are countered, the Indian book industry and the future of quality textbooks is in danger.