New Delhi: Independent member from Kerala MP Veerendra Kumar on Thursday demanded in Rajya Sabha that the government withdraw the customs duty of 10 per cent slapped on newsprint as it will hit the already stressed print media.

Participating in the debate on the Union Budget, the independent member said this was the highest-ever custom duty slapped on newsprint.

Kumar also raised the issue of central government "ignoring" demands of Kerala government for rebuilding infrastructure after the southern state was hit by floods.

"Let me bring before the government one grievance of the print media in the country. This budget has introduced a 10 per cent customs duty on newsprint, both uncoated paper and for used newspapers, as well as coated paper used for magazines.

"This is the highest ever customs duty slapped on the newspaper industry. There was no customs duty for newsprint since 2009," he said.

Kumar said the customs duty on newsprint has come at a time when the print media is already reeling under severe financial pressure due to many factors like lower advertisement revenue, high costs and digital onslaught from technological giants.

"Small and medium newspapers will go into deeper losses and many of them will be forced to close down. So, I request the finance minister to withdraw the customs duty slapped on the newspaper industry," he stressed.

Kumar said though the move is touted as an effort to provide a level-playing field, there is no advantage in reality for the domestic newsprint industry.

He said the Indian newsprint industry has a total capacity of one million tonne and this is only up to 40 per cent of the annual demand in India at present.

The country does not have an advantage in installing fresh newsprint capacity as the prime inputs cause a huge environmental burden, he said.

To enhance newsprint production, one was required to cut trees for pulp and increase quality recycled fibre power, he said.

He pointed out that even China recently shut many newsprint factories due to environmental hazards.

"Another disadvantage of Indian newsprint is that the quality of paper is not suitable for running on high-speed modern printing machines. No manufacturer in India is producing uncoated glazed and light weight coated paper.

"So there is no role at present left for Indian newsprint industry to play in the area," he said.

Raising the issue of Kerala floods, the independent member from the state alleged the the Union government has ignored Kerala's request for reconstruction efforts after the state faced an unprecedented deluge last year.

"The floods devastated the entire state throwing thousands of people in distress and large stretches of land and crops were washed away," he noted.

At the outset, Kumar congratulated Nirmala Sitharaman for presenting her maiden budget as first full-time woman finance minister.
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