‘Daily Desher Katha’ resumes publication

Published : Oct 24, 2018 12:30 IST

Daily Desher Katha , the popular mouthpiece of the Communist Party of I ndia (Marxist) in Tripura that was forcibly closed down on October 1 by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, resumed publication on October 11. In what is percieved as a politically motivated move, the District Magistrate of West Tripura ordered the closure of the 40-year-old paper on the grounds that it violated the Press and Registration of Books (PRB) Act, 1867. The Registrar of Newspapers for India (RNI) cancelled its registration.

The District Magistrate, Mahatme Sandeep Namdeo, held that the information provided by the newspaper about itself in print did not tally with the data on the RNI website. The discrepancy appears to have been caused by a lapse in updating the information on the website. The decision to close the newspaper was seen as a direct attack on the freedom of the press, especially since Daily Desher Katha is one of the staunchest critics of the BJP government in Tripura. The CPI(M) moved the Tripura High Court challenging the District Magistrate’s order and the RNI’s decision to cancel the paper’s registration.

On October 10, Chief Justice Ajay Rastogi ruled: “…the future effect and operation of the order of the District Magistrate, West Tripura, dt. 01.10.2018 followed with the order passed by the Sub-Divisional Magistrate, Sadar dt.01.10.2018 are hereby stayed. However, the respondents will be at liberty to file application for vacation/modification of the interim order after filing of the counter affidavit.”

The reason for the fiasco is the mismatch in the information provided in the print line of the paper, which states that Samir Paul is the editor, printer and publisher and the Daily Desher Katha Trust is its owner, and on the RNI website, which states that Gautam Das is the editor, printer and publisher and the CPI(M) Tripura State Committee the owner. On the basis of this mismatch, a local resident lodged a complaint in the court earlier this year.

From 1979, the year the newspaper was launched, to 2012, Daily Desher Katha was owned by the CPI(M) Tripura State Committee, and Gautam Das was its editor, publisher and printer. In 2012, the management of the newspaper was handed over to the Daily Desher Katha Society. In 2015, Gautam Das stepped down as editor, publisher and printer, and the society appointed Samir Paul in his place. In September this year, the Daily Desher Katha Trust was formed to take over the management of the paper from the Daily Desher Katha Society. Gautam Das became the chairman of the trust.

The documentation for the formation of the trust was authenticated by a first-class magistrate, in this case the Sub-Divisional Magistrate, Sadar. The CPI(M) maintains that it provided the necessary documents to the authorities concerned whenever a change took place.

But on October 1, even after the RNI issued a revised registration certificate to the daily and updated Daily Desher Katha’s information on its website, the District Magistrate allegedly forced the newspaper to close down. He ordered the Sub-Divisional Magistrate to cancel the authentication he had given earlier and informed the RNI that the authentication had been cancelled, resulting in the RNI withdrawing the revised registration certificate. This gave rise to the speculation that a deeper political game was afoot. The presence of the senior BJP leader Rajiv Bhattacharya in the District Magistrate’s room after the hearing on the matter was over added further credibility to the allegation that the BJP had a hand in the matter.

“The order of the DM which stopped the publication of our paper was unconstitutional, illegal and politically motivated. The Act [PRB Act of 1846] under which the complaint was made was primarily for keeping the records of publications, and if there is any mismatch there can be a monetary fine. The DM has no authority to stop the publication of a newspaper. This is something unprecedented,” CPI(M) leader and senior journalist at Daily Desher Katha , Rahul Sinha, told Frontline .

Gautam Das thanked the press fraternity and all democratic-minded people who stood in solidarity with the paper.

Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay

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