The Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court on Monday issued a notice to the Maharashtra government over its circular banning door-to-door delivery of newspapers in the state.
The bench of Justice Nitin Sambre sought the government’s response within two days on a petition filed by Nagpur Union of Working Journalists and Maharashtra Union of Working Journalists challenging the legality of the ban.
The HC issued notice to the chief secretary, Union Information and Broadcasting Ministry, state Directorate General of Information and Public Relations, Nagpur district collector and Nagpur Municipal Corporation, asking them to file a reply before April 23, when the next hearing is scheduled. The court is likely to decide on granting interim relief about lifting restrictions on delivery of newspapers.
The two journalists’ unions have opposed the addendum issued by the government on April 18, dubbing it “illegal, illogical and unconstitutional”. “The bar on circulation and distribution of newspapers is violative of fundamental right to speech and expression and goes against several Supreme Court rulings,” the petitioners argued.
Citing an advisory issued by Union Information and Broadcasting Ministry, the petitioners have said that the ministry had directed all state and Union territories to ensure uninterrupted functioning of print and electronic media, including its printing and distribution.
“The advisories issued by MHA and state government also recognised print media as an essential service, but suddenly on April 18, the government barred distribution, which amounts to unreasonable restriction without any empirical evidence,” petitioners’ counsel Deven Chauhan argued.
“Some restrictions in containment zones or guidelines to ensure even more cleanliness are welcome, but gagging the voice of media through such diktats is not acceptable,” he said.
“While permitting home delivery of grocery and vegetables through e-platforms and even permitting plumbers and mechanics and food delivery service, human interference will occur, but newspaper delivery has no element of interaction between hawker and reader,” the petitioners stated, questioning the logic behind banning newspaper delivery and decrying the same as violative of fundamental right of citizens to get authentic and credible news at doorstep. The petitioners also opposed the argument of availability of e-paper as justification to ban physical delivery of papers.
Government Pleader Sumant Deopujari, while opposing the petition, claimed that it was reasonable restriction put in place due to spread of COVID-19 pandemic. Besides, the readers are getting e-paper and hence, there is no bar on circulation, he claimed, seeking rejection of the petition.
Deopujari argued, “The circulation of newspapers is very much permitted. The respondent activities have no control over place from where the vendors or distributors are coming from… whether hotspot or COVID-19 affected areas. It is always open for petitioner to approach state government with their grievance and state can address them having regard to freedom of speech.”
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