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INS claims Rs 128 lakh payment default by AH Wheeler, Rs 45 lakh by Higginbotham’s

14-December-2004
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INS claims Rs 128 lakh payment default by AH Wheeler, Rs 45 lakh by Higginbotham’s

The romance and history of the Indian Railways can never be complete without mention of AH Wheeler & Co. This Allahabad-based company has been running railway bookstalls in India since 1877, a heritage institution comprising more than 250 bookstalls. It stocks books ranging from Prem Chand's Godan to Erich Segal's Love Story apart from newspapers and magazines. To it belongs the credit of publishing the first works of a young writer named Rudyard Kipling.

But this one-and-a-quarter-century heritage may soon be a part of the history of Indian Railways courtesy a double whammy. First came the announcement by Railway Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav in his Railway Budget speech earlier this year to do away with the old policy of sole selling rights – which always belonged to AH Wheeler in the North, East and West, and to Higginbotham’s of Chennai in the South.

Ironically, the minister’s intention has also aroused apprehensions among newspaper and magazine publishers for an altogether different reason, prompting the Indian Newspaper Society (INS) to shoot off a missive to the Railway Minister. Herein lies the second source of trouble for the two railway bookshop chains: massive outstandings from both.

In a letter written on December 2, 2004, a copy of which is available with exchange4media, P.K. Lahiri, Secretary General, INS, stated: “Over the years it has been a matter of concern that payments to our member publications, both by AH Wheeler and Higginbotham’s, are inordinately delayed.” To assess the extent of arrears payable, the INS had advised its members to report outstanding dues from both these booksellers.

The letter further says: “Based on the information received from member publications, it is observed that Rs 128.46 lakh is to be collected from AH Wheeler & Co., and Rs 45.92 lakh from Higginbotham’s.”

What is causing concern to INS, which represents 700 newspaper and periodical publishers, is that the Railway Minister’s decision to do away with the sole selling rights and bring in a five-year uniform tenure may make it difficult for the INS member publications to recover the huge arrears AH Wheeler and Higginbotham’s owe them. States the letter: “While both these organizations would perhaps be eligible for sole selling rights for a uniform tenure of five years, we would request you to add a rider that to be eligible to bid for the rights, these two organizations should have cleared the dues of the publications and submit no-dues certificates from the publications.”

The INS member publications offer a maximum commission of 33.3 per cent on sale of newspaper/periodical copies and accept unsold returns not exceeding five per cent, subject to a credit period of 45 days.

Laloo Prasad Yadav may have thought he was banishing an English institution by his decision. In his inimical manner, he had even departed from his prepared text to say (in Hindi): "Wheeler, Wheeler, Wheeler. Why do we have a Wheeler bookstall everywhere? The English have left this country long back!" His officers had obviously forgotten to brief him that AH Wheeler, despite its very English sounding name, is an entirely Indian-owned enterprise based in Allahabad, founded by a French author, Emile Moreau, and an Indian partner, T.K. Bannerjee.

Now, with the INS letter, he has another reason to suspect these two “English” institutions.

OUTSTANDINGS OWED TO SOME PUBLICATIONS BY A.H.WHEELER AND CO. AND HIGGIMBOTHAMS
Name of publicaton A.H. Wheeler (Rs.) Higgimbothams (Rs.)
Swati, Vijayavada
10,58,315.00
4,967.00
Cyber media (I) Ltd., Gurgaon
3,35,332.00
-
Magna Publishing Co. Ltd., Mumbai
10,92,261.00
2,57,706.00
Chronicle, New Delhi
7,04,154.00
1,68,122.00

Tata infomedia
(a)Better photography-Rs.1,24,936.00
(b)Over drive-Rs.5,25,015.00

6,49,951.00
-
Filmi Duniya, New Delhi
3,92,935.00
-
The Indian Express, Mumbai
6,15,668.00
-
Malayala Manorama, Kottayam
7,22,814.00
11,32,116.00
M.M.publications Ltd, Kottayam
9,03,479.00
3,38,185.00
Madhur Kathayen
15,65,000.00
86,700.00
Competition Refresher , New Delhi
3,66,009.00
83,198.00
Chandamama, Chennai
4,56,955.00
80,701.00
     

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