International Kolkata Book Fair in Jan-Feb; Bengal Publishers Rue Rising Paper Cost, Dhaka ‘Barriers’

As preparations begin in full swing for the 46th International Kolkata Book Fair (IKBF) from January 30 to February 12, 2023, in Slat Lake, what is hitting book sellers and publishers in Bengal the most is the rising cost of paper and “trade barriers” with neighbouring Bangladesh.

Addressing a press conference in Kolkata on Wednesday, Tridib Chatterjee, general secretary of the Publishers and Book Sellers Guild of Bengal, said the focus country this year was Spain, The logo of the focal country was also unveiled at the occasion. The fair will be inaugurated by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

However, Chatterjee also alleged that neigbouring Bangladesh was given huge space every year in the IKBF or Boi Mela but there was no “reciprocal” arrangement for West Bengal in that country.

However, speaking with NewsClick, Hasan Mahmud, Bangladesh’s Minister for Information and Broadcasting, refuted the allegation and said that if this were true, he would take the onus of allowing stalls by Bengali publishers in 21se Boi Mela, the largest  book fair of Bangladesh, and would talk out the matter with the Culture Ministry of Bangladesh.

Going down history, Chatterjee told NewsClick that it was in1998 when for the first time  Bangladesh was made a focal country  in the IKBF. When Sheikh Hasina became Prime Minister, she was also approached by the Booksellers and Publishers Guild seeking reciprocal arrangements during book fairs in Bangladesh. He added that Bangladesh was the theme country in IKBF multiple times, but a reciprocal arrangement from Dhaka is still absent.

Last year, too, the Bangladesh Information Minister was approached and piles of letters were written to their foreign affairs ministry, cultural affairs minister and information minister, but in vain, he added.

Notably, Bengal and Bangladesh share the same language and Bangladesh publishers are allowed to do business in West Bengal, but there is no such space for West Bengal’s publishers in the neighbouring country.

Chatterjee alleged this was due to the mindset among a section of Bangladesh’s publishers who want to keep their land free from India’s  influence. Bangladesh, with 100 million Bengali-speaking people is one of the promising business fields for West Bengal’s publishing industry. There are 85 million Bengali-speaking people West Bengal, Assam and Tripura, he added.

Chatterjee also rued the rising paper costs following which publishers were being forced to increase the price of books published in vernacular languages. In addition, online media has wiped the sheen out of the publishing world to a great extent in the state. Publishers in West Bengal are, therefore, desperately trying to explore newer pastures for business, and Bangladesh is one these, he said.

Chatterjee said after the pandemic improved this year, the Kolkata Book Fair was held last year, which saw 2.2 million book lovers and books worth Rs 23 crore were sold. About 570 stalls were set up.

Earlier, speaking on IKBF’s focal country, Spain, this year, Chatterjee said this would be their second appearance in the fair as the ‘Theme Country’. In 2006, at the Spanish Pavilion of IKBF, the Embassy of Spain in India had also signed a memorandum of understanding with Calcutta University, after which the Government of Spain started providing a lecturer for the Spanish Language Department. In addition to that, the international examination DELE (Diplomas of Spanish as Foreign Language) started in Kolkata, conducted by Instituto Cervantes, Government of Spain.

H.E. Mr José María Ridao Domínguez, Ambassador of Spain in India along with other dignitaries apprised  the media about the participation of Spain at the International Kolkata Book Fair 2023 and said that Spain’s participation as the ‘Theme’ would strengthen the cultural bonding between the two countries.

The international pavilion will also have the presence of publishers from the UK, the US, Japan, Vietnam, France, Thailand, Australia, Argentina, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba, Peru, other Latin American countries and Bangladesh. 

Publishers from the states of India, such as Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Gujarat, Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Telengana, Odisha will also be an integral part of the event.

Another important highlight will be many engrossing sessions, panel discussions on literature, film, drama, music, dance, among others.

Note: This news piece was originally published in newsclick and used purely for non-profit/non-commercial purposes exclusively for Human Rights.

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