Ritanjali Hastir & Keekli Bureau, 18th Feb, 2021, Shimla
In a direct conversation with the Aggarwal Book Store Vendor and Auckland House School Director Principal, at the school premises, Keekli Editor asked few pertinent questions especially regarding supply of ICSE Syllabus course books for the current academic year. The major issue being that parents were unable to buy selective books from the vendor and were being asked to buy the complete sets as prescribed.
Selective books will be available for sale from 22nd February onwards!
Almost after a complete year of chaos and uncertainty, life of students seems to be coming back on track as schools have started announcing their dates for reopening. Books that have always been the most exciting part of a new session for students have become a reason for sleepless nights for many parents. Due to massive job losses in various sectors and salaries being slashed, and sources of income being at an uncertainty level, parents have settled for second hand books and clothes. The last academic year saw a complete lockdown, wherein classes were held online, hence the school dresses became redundant except for few random cases when any online competitions were held, then a formal appearance was validated.
With the beginning of the academic session, the monopoly of a bookseller has put an interrogation mark on the control of private schools by the government when it comes to nipping the evil in the bud. On numerous occasions the ONLY seller of ICSE Books, M/s Aggarwal Book Store, was contacted by parents, seeking few selective books for their wards. But the owner out rightly refused to sell individual books and maintained that only complete sets were available to buy. He said, “I am not authorized by any school to provide books to anyone; it is my personal initiative to bring sets for sale and I am not going to give a single book to anyone. Online options are always open if parents have an issue they can get them from there.” Even though nearly 150 students in each class affiliated to ICSE board in the city may be his customers, but definitely online option is not conducive to all.
But today, the conversation was on quite a different note with Mr Amit Aggarwal, who said, “Even though orders were placed for selective books that could be sold to the parents, the delay was at the publishers end. We were not sure of the number of students who would buy the books as parents had ordered them online as well.” He maintained that he was unable to fulfil these random requests of parents at present and finally ensured in the end that from 22nd February, selective books as required by them would be made available.
Director-Principal Mrs John said, “The book list had been uploaded on the school website and parents were free to buy books from anywhere, parents have a free choice, and no lists were handed out to any book vendor by the school management.” She reiterated her point that, “No such instruction was given to the vendor to sell only complete sets, but rather they should be made available to the parents freely, without any pressure.”
However, the issue became increasingly contentious as parents were a disgruntled lot. “As a parent we were the ones who made fuss over books being provided in the school but unfortunately now since the school has given us a free will there is more harassment. Free will isn’t really free when we are forced to buy books from one vendor only, just leading to the monopoly of the seller, who has compelled us all to surrender to his whims and fancy”, says one of the parents. On the other hand, when compared to CBSE schools, parents have a choice to buy from the entire market. Apparently, Shimla Lower Bazaar book stores are filled with CBSE books and all of them are willing to provide a single book rather than force a parent to buy a complete set. Most of them sell books even at the price lower than the MRP, showing that there is a margin and parents can always be given a rebate, which also counts on building a customer base.
On independent inquiries from other book vendor, they said, “We people are never provided with an ICSE Books list which is usually out by October each year, but for this year due to Covid delays. The updated book list this time on the school website was viewed late, hence we are unable to provide ICSE books, however, CBSE and other Board books are readily available with us. Parents did approach us with specific requirements but now just two weeks before the session begins, it is not feasible for us to arrange them. Moreover, it will now block our money too as most of the parents may have already taken books, by the time we manage to arrange it would be too late.” Another book store owner added, “We too are willing to keep ICSE Books for the sake of parents, at least a competition is must else the monopoly of an individual seller will only lead to harassment of the parents further.”
Another parent was of the opinion, “If we are still forced, we will take this matter to the District Commissioner as the school cannot shrug off its responsibility in the name of giving free will to the parents, only the modus operandi has changed. The books are not sold in the school, but then there is only one vendor dealing in ICSE syllabus book. Sadly, it is unfortunate that the same policy and loot is continuing only the outer façade has changed.”
On the other hand, Vijender, Parent Teacher Association President said, “We are working on various issues faced by parents and are demanding a Regulatory Commission be setup for private schools. Our demands will be voiced again and again and we are hopeful that this time they will be addressed in the Cabinet.”
However, this unfair conduct on part of Aggarwal Book Store to sell only complete sets definitely peeved the parents, who were left with no choice but to openly voice their opinions, to sought some kind of resolve. This finally, did happen when the owner agreed to sell selected books to parents as per their individual need.