This column was published in Business Bhutan on July 11th 2015.
I remember a lot of things related to books with fondness. What I don’t remember is books being expensive. It was as much a rude shock to me as it was to our bookstores when they realized they had to pay 25% more as Customs Duty and Sales Tax on books not just from third countries, but India too. A bilateral trade agreement ensures the 20% Customs Duty is not levied on Indian products, but the duty has been levied on books from India since May, this year, in the absence of Excise Duty invoices.
All eleven bookstores in Thimphu submitted a joint letter to the Department of Revenue and Customs in June requesting for the waiving off of the Customs Duty on books from India. This is an issue because the majority of our imported books are from India. The Department denied the request with: “The importer has to submit along with the invoice of goods, the excise duty invoice which is issued by the Directorate General of Inspection, Customs and Central Excise, GoI, which authenticates, that the: a. goods are of Indian origin and b. Excise duty levied on Indian manufactured goods, has been paid to GoI by the importers.”
Fair enough. But the Indian distributors do not care! The demand of our bookstores is so insignificant that our requests for the (mouthful of a) rule above are met with nothing but indifference. Our bookstores are the ones wedged between a rock and a hard place now: The heavy taxation and the consequent need to increase the prices of books on one side, and the couldn’t-care-less distributors on the other. Our bookstores do not want to increase the price of books if they can help it, but our tax department isn’t being very helpful.
So many of us are diligently trying to get Bhutanese to read inspired by the National Reading Year, and there are some of us who even make buying books difficult by not considering sensible requests like the waiving off of Customs duty based on available evidence (the books have invoices and stickers that legitimise their Indian origin)! Isn’t this rigidity in the implementation of rules absurd? The books physically attest that they are from India, but just because another rule demands the Excise Duty Invoice, one must turn a blind eye to the available proof?
I read that the UK and US do not tax the import of books. Why can’t Bhutan be this charming too? I am getting ahead of myself. I should instead be asking: Why are we levying the 20% Customs Duty like blind bats? But bats are sophisticated. I am not too sure about us, humans.