To put the record straight, the decision of the All Manipur Publishers’ Association to shut shop for three days and suspend the publication of Imphal-based daily newspapers from November 18 to 20 was not against the demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government in Delhi.

In fact, there was nothing political in it.

Rather, it was a collective voice against the acute shortage of smaller notes, the appeal of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ministers to bear with the inconvenience for 50 days having failed to cut ice with the publishers.

In Manipur, the practice among distributors or hawkers is to go to the distribution sections of various newspaper offices, buy the papers with instant cash and deliver them to readers. They get a subsidy: for example, if a newspaper has a selling price of Rs 4.5, the distributor or hawker gets it for Rs 3 and makes a profit of Rs 1.5.

Most distributors buy a lot of newspaper on a single day and make a round of all the newspaper houses. Or they have arrangements where different groups buy different newspapers in bulk and they all meet at a point to exchange papers.

With banknotes of smaller denominations becoming scarce after the government’s announcement withdrawing Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 on November 8, the distributors tried to buy papers with the demonetised cash.

In a precursor of things to come, the All Manipur Newspaper Publishers’ Association issued a statement on November 15 saying that they may not be in a position to publish the day’s paper if the distributors continued to pay in demonetised notes. To prevent such an event, they asked that newspapers be added to the list of services allowed to accept banned notes till November 24, such as government hospitals, milk booths, air and rail ticketing, utility bills, pharmacies, and crematoriums and burial grounds.

What has made matters worse is that distributors in Manipur are not a very well organised sector. They do have the All Manipur Newspaper Sales and Distributors’ Association, but this does not have much influence.

A first in Manipur

This is not the first time newspaper houses in Manipur have suspended publication. But this is the first time publishers themselves have decided on such a move.

The state BJP, including its two MLAs, have promised to take the matter up with the concerned authority and see if arrangements can be made in the from of separate counters at banks for distributors to exchange their old banknotes.

The suspension of newspaper publication has only added to Manipur’s many troubles. The public here has been left reeling by not just the demonetisation move but also an ongoing economic blockade on national highways connecting the state to the rest of the country. The blockade, called by the United Naga Council against the creation of two new districts, Sadar Hills and Jiribam, has led to petrol prices going over Rs 200 a litre in the black market.

The writer is the editor of the Sangai Express.