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food for thought

The GST Council meeting held for the first time in Guwahati has been touted as the most comprehensive review of tax rates on various commodities. Following demands raised by various sectors, taxes on several items of common consumption have been brought down from the highest 28% slab. However, adjustment pains are likely to continue in the near future, particularly for small and cottage industries that operate on slim profit margins. At the ongoing NE Book Fair in the city, several book publishers have spoken about the difficulties they are facing in bringing out books, because books have been put in the 12% GST slab. Earlier, they used to pay value added tax (VAT) at 6% rate only, so now their tax payout has doubled. With the costs of paper, ink and other paraphernalia also rising, publishers are forced to raise prices as well as cut the number of book titles. This is likely to impact the book reading habit, which anyway is declining as the young generation takes to reading online and building digital libraries of e-books. Some environmental activists believe this is a good thing, as there will be no need to cut down trees to make paper books, neither will bulldozers or excavators be used to bury mountains of used books in landfills. But can we do away with physical books totally? While new technology will answer this question sooner or later, the government, among other things, ought to give a degree of support to the book industry. If this country is to be a leading knowledge economy, how books can survive will be an important question for the powers-be as well as the other stakeholders.