Senate panel blocks sale of National Book Foundation

Recommends revitalising the foundation, enhancing its budget


Khalid Mehmood May 31, 2019
PHOTO: EXPRESS

ISLAMABAD: A parliamentary body has opposed a proposal to put the National Book Foundation (NBF) on the anvil and has instead proposed to activate the foundation and to triple its budget to Rs3 billion.

This was recommended by the Senate’s Functional Committee on Problems of Less Developed Areas which met at the Parliament House on Thursday with Senator Usman Kakar in the chair.

Senator Kakar expressed his concerns that the NBF should focus on the less-developed areas of the country, adding that people in those areas really needed books and were eager to read.

He regretted that the NBF only had one outlet in Balochistan and directed the ministry to set up more outlets in the main cities of the province, especially in Zhob, Loralai and Khuzdar districts.

Officials from Ministry of National History and Literary Heritage Division briefed the committee about the National Book Foundation (NBF). They disclosed that it was established in 1972 and at its peak, it operated 24 outlets across the country.

They added that the NBF was responsible for printing books of the federal board apart from providing books at concessional rates to readers. The foundation’s managing director that they maintained a readers club with 2,700 members who are provided books at 50% concessional rates.

The committee was told that readers could avail a 55% discount on a book if it was purchased from any NBF outlet. The officials further said that NBF had a membership card through which members could purchase books worth Rs6,000 in a year.

However, the chairman recommended increasing the membership fees from Rs6,000 to Rs.10,000.

The committee was also informed about the foundation’s “Books on Wheels Programme”. The officials said that two vehicles each in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Islamabad were serving as mobile libraries.

“Unfortunately in our society the tendency and appetite for reading are gradually dying and this lamentable situation is not only drastically affecting the habits, behaviour and notions of the people, but society as a whole" Senator Samina Saeed said.

Senator Kakar asked which languages does the foundation print books in. To this, officials replied that most of the books they produce are in Urdu.

At this, the committee’s chairman lamented that regional languages are not being promoted in the country. He added that books should be translated into vernacular such as Sindhi, Punjabi, Balochi, Pashto and other languages.

He further said that all regional languages were an integral part of our culture and heritage and emphasized that they should be termed as national languages.

In this regard, the committee recommended to include books by regional authors in the foundation’s collection.

Given the reverence of Ramazan, he directed to translate the Holy Quran into the main regional languages of the country. For this purpose, he instructed to set up Allama Abl Abdal Ali and Sain Kamal Khan Kamal Literary Awards in recognition of their services.

Kakar, from the nationalist Pashtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) in Balochistan, said that it will be a great injustice to the great Sufi poet Rehman Baba if his works were not included among writers of Sufic works.

He further directed to set up the Hamid Momin Baba and Ahmed Faraz awards in recognition of the literary services of these poets.

The committee was told that the Urdu Science Board, Urdu Dictionary Board and National Language Promotion Department were being merged.

At this, the committee expressed its concerns and requested the government to take a decision.

The chairman issued directions for launching mobile libraries in less developed areas and to mobilize youth regarding membership cards through this programme.

The committee issued instructions to provide books for children and other prison inmates.

NBF managing director told the committee that they had established book clubs in 11 central and district jails where they were providing books free of cost.

We have written to the heads of all the jails for setting up book clubs in the prisons, but they do not respond," he added.

The committee directed the Ministry of National History and Literary Heritage to form a board of governors for the National Book Foundation (NBF) within six months with equal representation of government, opposition and provinces.

On the issue of vacant posts in the organization, Senator Kalsoom Perveen said that the last meeting of foundation’s board was held nine years ago. Kakar directed the ministry to devise proper rules for NBF and to fill vacant posts in the ministry within three months.

The committee further recommended expanding the budget of the ministry from Rs1 billion to Rs3 billion to adequately fund the 12 institutions operating under the division.

The foundation was also directed to establish a book stalls in the Parliament House, provincial assemblies and at every airport of the country to encourage a trend of book reading amongst the public.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 31st, 2019.

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