The Mumbai Police issue character certificates to those who need them for employment, such as contract labour travelling overseas, and security agency staff at home. But the city’s chief metropolitan magistrate has extended this requirement to another category: Publishers and printers must now provide a “character and antecedent certificate” for every publication.
The provocation for this blanket provision is apparently those who don’t print publications but threaten to do so for ill-gotten gain. However, Sections 383-384 of the Indian Penal Code are available to deal with such persons, without the necessity of harassing everyone in the publishing industry.
From the point of view of a publisher or printer, the certificate looks like discouragement by design. It requires applicants to declare any prior run-in with the police, even if it only meant a fine. Particularly strange is the requirement to declare details of past political activity. The rule applies to new publications only, but even with regard to existing ones, any change in the company’s name, the publication’s title, or its periodicity, etc would necessitate a character certificate.
The Registrar of Newspapers for India, the national record-keeper for media publishing, has distanced itself from this new demand by the chief metropolitan magistrate of Mumbai, which looks like anticipatory censorship by other means. RNI rules require publishers to provide the police their own address and their printers’, in case a publication is banned and police have to seize copies. To go beyond this requirement is unnecessary and must raise suspicions. The chief metropolitan magistrate’s decision threatens a citizen’s right to free speech, guaranteed by Article 19(1a) of the Constitution. The order should be withdrawn.