NEW DELHI: Asking Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharama to withdraw the 10 per cent customs duty slapped on the newsprint industry in the Union Budget, Rajya Sabha member from Kerala M P Veerendra Kumar Thursday said the move has come at a time when the print media is already reeling under severe financial pressure due to many factors like lower advertisement revenue, higher costs and digital onslaught from technological giants.
Speaking during a discussion on the Budget, Kumar said that small and medium newspapers will go into deeper losses and many of them will be forced to close down. “This Budget has introduced a 10 per cent customs duty on newsprint, both the uncoated paper used for newspapers and the coated paper used for magazines. This is the highest ever customs duty slapped on newsprint in the history of the industry. There was no customs duty for newsprint since 2009,” he told the House.
The MP said though the move is touted as an effort to provide a level playing field to the domestic newsprint industry, there is no advantage in reality. “The Indian newsprint industry has an annual production capacity of one million tonnes. This is only up to 40 per cent of the annual demand in India at present. Also, the country does not have any advantage in installing fresh newsprint capacity as the prime inputs bear the huge environmental burden. To increase newsprint production, you need trees to be cut for pulp, increase quality recycled fibre and power,” said Kumar.
Citing that China has recently shut many newsprint factories to reduce the environmental hazard, Kumar said that another disadvantage of the Indian newsprint is that the quality of the paper is not suitable for running on high-speed modern printing machines and no manufacturer in India is producing uncoated glazed and light-weight coated paper. “So, there is no role, at present, left for the Indian newsprint industry to play in this area,” he added.