Literary: The new rules for publication issued by the Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA) have caught many book vendors off guard.

On March 10, BICMA endorsed the New Rules for Publication, which can be found on their website. The New Rules for Publication states that publication for sale or distribution, whether such book, newspaper or magazine is published within the country or outside is required to be registered with the authority with a specified fee structure.

For example, Nu 5 per book (particular publication title and not number of copies) is charged to register international books. While Nu 500 is charged to register a local publication and the same amount to register international newspapers and magazines.

The new rules further states that all imported publications including books, newspapers and magazines registered for sale and distribution within Bhutan shall carry the “BICMA registration number” on the last page in case of newspapers and first page in case of books.

The sudden enforcement has shocked bookstore owners in Thimphu.

Kunzang Choki of Junction bookstore said this is not the first time they were discouraged by such new rules enforced upon them.

Not knowing where to turn to, Kunzang Choki poured out her frustration on social media. Her post shocked many readers.

“I fail to see the purpose of the additional charge (a sum of Nu 5, which they were ‘so kind’ to reduce it from Nu 100), as BICMA is not providing any service in exchange for it and is effectively levying an additional tax on each title,” Kunzang Choki wrote on Junction bookstore’s Facebook page.

In a previous interview, Kunzang Choki, said that such new rules are not feasible and doesn’t encourage reading habits especially among people who can’t afford to read.

“What is the purpose of levying such rules on bookstore owners when other mediums such as social media and the internet are there to provide any information required today,” she said. “The system is not even formulated well since we don’t even know how to go about it. Are we to carry each and every book to register or pay the fee first?”

We aren’t demanding any concessions or subsidies – all we want is a fair and just system where booksellers can survive doing the one thing we are asking to be allowed to do – selling books, Kunzang Choki said.

Similar views were shared by other bookstore owners in Thimphu.

DSB bookstore’s staff members said they were equally surprised when they found out about the new rule. “Most of the books are already packed and sent for various events. We are in a dilemma about what to do since these books were not registered. We are waiting for their response,” a staff member said.

For now, the bookstore has submitted a total list of books at the bookstore to BICMA after the new rules were endorsed. The bookstore has more than 11,000 books today.

The New Rules for Publication also states that registration is not required for publications of the government, schools and recognised institutions, which are published solely for internal use or distribution.

The new rule further states that if any person found to be publishing, selling, importing and distributing publication without a valid license or a registration number issued by the authority shall be dealt as per the provisions of the Act and Licensing Terms and Conditions including cancellations of license based on the severity of the violations as may be determined by the authority.

While BICMA did not respond to questions from Kuensel in time for the writing of this article, the authority’s chief information and media officer, Lakshuman Chettri spoke to the national broadcaster BBS on the issue.

He told BBS that the registration process is to filter content of imported books.

He said it was mandatory for bookstores to deposit three copies of a book with the authority but that it was reduced to only one copy. He added that the authority would determine if some titles have to be reviewed and kept with the authority.

He told BBS that if the bookstores do not adhere to the rules, their licenses may be cancelled.

Thinley Zangmo