IN what will go down as a Black Day in the history of post independence journalism in India, Daily Desher Katha, a 40 year old progressive and popular newspaper published from Tripura was forced to close down at 11.35 pm on October 1 by an order by the DM and collector of West Tripura at the behest of the BJP led coalition government of the state. In an unprecedented turn of events, as a result of the actions of the DM, the Registrar of Newspapers of India (RNI) had withdrawn its own revised certificate of registration issued in favour of Daily Desher Katha within hours of issuing the same.
The order puts a stop in the continuous publication of a popular, progressive daily which started its journey at the dawn of August 15, 1979 as the country celebrated its 33rd Independence Day.
On October 2, Gautam Das, chairman of Daily Desher Katha Trust, the owner of the paper, in a press conference, had said that the DM has issued this order at the behest of the ruling BJP. He termed this order of the DM as illegal and a brazen interference in the freedom of press. Such a thing has never happened even during the internal emergency. We vehemently protest this forcible closure of Daily Desher Katha by the central and state government, he said.
Detailing the events that led to this closure, Gautam Das said, on September 6, Sandip Mahatme, DM of West Tripura informed Samir Paul, the editor of Daily Desher Katha through a letter that one Shyamal Debnath had filed a complaint against the paper on May 26 alleging that the declaration about the ownership, editorship, name of publisher, printer etc as mentioned in the print line of the paper do not match with the information available on the website of RNI. On the basis, the DM asked the editor to be present physically at the hearing on September 12. The lawyers representing Daily Desher Katha sought a time of one month but he granted a mere 12 days. On the 24th the lawyers of Daily Desher Katha told the DM that the process of obtaining revised registration certificate for the paper is on at RNI Delhi and sought 15 days for the process to be completed. But he fixed October 1 as the next date of hearing.
Gautam Das alleged that the DM was predetermined to stop the publication of Daily Desher Katha. That is why, when on October 1, the revised certificate of registration from the RNI was placed before the DM, he started a new drama. The SDM of Sadar was called to the court of DM and was rebuked for issuing the authentication certificate on the deed of trust for Daily Desher Katha Trust and openly pressurized him to cancel the authentication certificate. The DM even went to the extent of questioning the RNI, as to how they issued the revised registration certificate, which is illegal as he is a subordinate officer to the RNI. At around 10 pm on October 1, RNI informed Daily Desher Katha that they are withdrawing the revised registration certificate issued just few hours ago. Then at 11.35 pm, the DM issued an order to stop the publication of the paper. Gautam Das said, the DM had said that he will pass the order within 15 minutes after the closing of arguments. But he took almost five and half hours to pronounce his judgement. Das alleged that Rajib Bhattacharya, a leader of state BJP and others visited the DM at his office at around 9 pm and had a long meeting with the SP and DM at the latter’s chamber. After that the order of stopping the publication of paper was issued.
On the issue of controversy regarding the ownership of paper, Gautam Das said, “Daily Desher Katha started as a daily owned by CPI(M) Tripura state committee and I was its founder editor, publisher and printer. It used to be published from Janasiksha Cooperative Printing Works at Central Road, Agartala. The RNI registration for the paper was obtained in that year itself. Subsequently in 1988 the printing press was shifted to Melarmath. In 1994, we started printing from a new press – the Tripura Printers and Publishers. All these were time to time informed to RNI following all the due procedures.” In 2012, the Party had handed over the ownership of the paper to Daily Desher Katha Society. In 2015, Samir Paul was appointed the new editor, publisher and printer of the paper by the Society. This too was duly informed to the RNI. But these changes were not reflected on the RNI website. So the editor wrote to the RNI seeking the revised registration certificate. The RNI sought some additional documents on July 16 and those were sent. From September 1, the paper is being managed by the Daily Desher Katha Trust. The Society returned the ownership to the Party and the Party handed over the ownership to the trust following all the legal procedures. All the required documents were again submitted to the RNI. On that basis, the RNI had issued the revised registration certificate on October 1, the same was uploaded on the RNI portal. The copy of revised registration certificate was sent to the DM. Legally after getting this certificate the DM should have closed the proceedings and given verdict in favour of Daily Desher Katha. But since he was predetermined to stop the publication of the paper, he illegally forced the SDM to cancel his authentication certificate.
This forcible stopping of publication is no sudden step. From March 4, the Daily Desher Katha has been facing the wrath of the ruling BJP. From March 4 itself, all the transport depots of the state including those at Agartala have been captured by BJP miscreants and no public vehicle was allowed the carry Daily Desher Katha to the subdivisions, leading to a drastic fall in the circulation by around 45,000 copies. The packets of newspapers have been burnt down; the hawkers, agents and subscribers have been attacked and threatened. A number of reporters of the paper have been physically attacked. Advertisements from the government have been stopped abruptly. It was resumed again after complaints were lodged, but in a much reduced volume. All these were because the Daily Desher Katha has been, from the beginning, exposing the misrule of this government and has been bravely putting forth news of the sufferings of the people; attack on democratic rights of the people. The Daily Desher Katha had approached the Press Council of India about all these attacks on it. The PCI had taken cognizance of the complaint and had issued notice to the chief secretary of the state on August 27. This was another big reason of the government’s anger and desperation to close down the paper.
With this grossly illegal act of forcible closure of the paper, more than 200 people directly linked with the paper as journalists, computer operators, proof readers, machine man and others have been thrown into an utter helplessness just on the eve of the season of festivals. They have been stripped of their livelihood in an inhuman act of political vendetta.
Gautam Das in the press conference said, this proves again that the BJP cannot withstand any voice of dissent and wants to stifle any voice that is opposed to it. That is why Kalburgi, Gauri Lankesh, Pansare and Dabholkar have been murdered, the five human rights activists were arrested. But we still have faith in the judiciary and shall approach appropriate forums to get justice and hope to resume publication at the earliest.