THE closing down of daily Deshar Katha, a daily newspaper associated with the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Tripura is a shocking attack on the freedom of the press and democratic rights.
Cancellation of the registration of the newspaper, which has been in existence for 40 years, by a sub-divisional magistrate on flimsy technical grounds is an unprecedented action which highlights the authoritarianism which has been ushered in by the BJP regime.
In recent years, there were changes in the editor, publisher and ownership of the newspaper. However, the change of ownership (made in 2015) was not registered with the Registrar of Newspapers (RNI). Utilising this, the process was initiated to take action against the newspaper by the district magistrate. Even though the RNI issued a new Certificate of Registration on October 1, on the very same day, the sub-divisional magistrate cancelled the registration of the newspaper and consequent to that, the RNI withdrew the revised certificate.
Normally, when there is some technical flaw in the registration process, time would be given for taking corrective measures. That the district magistrate ordered the SDM to cancel the registration, despite the RNI issuing a revised certificate shows malafide intentions.
The administrative action against Deshar Katha has come as a culmination of a series of attacks on newspaper ever since the BJP-led coalition government in Tripura assumed office six months ago. The ruling party and the government were determined to suppress the widely circulated newspaper. Attacks were launched on the entire distribution network. The bundles of paper were being sent throughout the state through the bus transport network. Within weeks, none of the transporters were willing to take the consignments. Newspaper agents and vendors were physically attacked and bundles of newspapers were burnt or destroyed. Some reporters of the paper were assaulted and badly injured. In Tripura, subscribing to and reading Deshar Katha itself became a crime, subject to vigilante attacks.
It is in this background that the draconian step of ending the registration of the newspaper was taken. This anti-democratic step could not have been taken by a mere SDM without instructions from the political masters.
The Deshar Katha and the CPI(M) will not be cowed down by this anti-democratic attack. The right to publish a newspaper and to convey news and views to the people is a fundamental right assured in the constitution. The CPI(M) will fight legally and politically to get this obnoxious ban overthrown.
The attack on Deshar Katha is a warning that no rights are safe under the BJP regime. It is essential that all concerned with democracy and freedom of expression speak out against this danger to press freedom.
(October 4, 2018)