World Book Fair begins in New Delhi


New Delhi : The 20th World Book Fair in the capital began on an optimistic note Saturday with Union Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal announcing that efforts were on to make the biennial fair an annual affair.

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He inaugurated the nine-day book fair, being held Feb 25-March 4, at the Hamsadhwani open air theatre at the Pragati Maidan.

The minister said the government would try to host the fair every year given its increasing popularity and growing status as one of the most important book-related events in the Afro-Asian region.

The National Book Trust which hosts the fair has been trying to persuade the government to make the fair an annual event for several years.

Addressing the gathering, Sibal said: “India is the third largest publisher of English books after the US and UK.”

Citing figures, Sibal said the country published at least 100,000 books in different languages annually. He said children in India should have access to information free of cost.

“My dream is to see that every child in this country has an Akash tablet computer,” he said.

He said: “One of the reasons for keeping the price of the tablet computer reasonable (Rs.2,500) was to ensure that it reached everyone.” The minister praised the efforts of the NBT in “making the fair on par with the best in the region”.

National Book Trust director M.A. Sikander said: “The trust has been more professional in the management of the fair this year with several foreign partnerships from countries like Germany and France.”

More than a dozen non-profit organisations are supporting the events along with government-aided film organisations, universities and trade bodies.

The fair which is celebrating 100 years of Indian cinema is themed on the relationship between literature and cinema. In a message, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said: “The focus on cinema will help us look back at the wonderful traditions that continue to influence society.”

The fair is hosting 1,300 exhibitors in 2,500 kiosks in 10 of the 12 halls at Pragati Maidan spread over 45,000 square metres.

Addressing the media after the inauguration, the director of the National Book Trust said: “We are trying to lure the local population of the capital to the holistic world of books which also includes culture and cuisine.”

“For those who don’t like books, there are cultural programmes and a sprawling food court,” Sikander said. An information counter, armed with writers’ profiles, bibliographies and catalogues, is helping buyers and visitors locate the books they are looking for on the basis of the names of the authors.

A fleet of three-wheeled mechanised rickshaws is ferrying tourists around the fair.

“I expect the number of footfalls to go up by nearly 30 per cent,” Sikander said. According to rough estimates by fair officials, the last edition of the World Book Fair in 2010 drew nearly 50,000 visitors.