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CPM cries political vendetta after licence of its Tripura daily is withdrawn by Modi govt

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CPM calls move attack on press freedom. ‘It is an Emergency-like situation,’ says Gautam Das, CPM leader from Tripura, who was editor of the daily till 2015.

New Delhi: The Registrar of Newspapers (RNI) Monday withdrew the registration certificate of Communist Party of India (Marxist) mouthpiece Daily Desher Katha over ownership changes, triggering allegations of political vendetta.

The RNI move effectively results in the suspension of the Bengali news daily published from Tripura.

In its order, the RNI said the decision was based on an email received from Sandeep Mahatme, district magistrate and collector of West Tripura, who cancelled the authentication of the daily “over the declaration made by the publisher (editor Samir Paul) in form 1″.

Based on the email, the RNI considered the registration certificate as invalid, and thus withdrew it, said the order.

Mahatme told ThePrint that the action on the newspaper was taken on the basis of Sections 5 (1) and 5 (2) E of the PRB Act that deals with transfer of ownership.
“When they changed the ownership of the paper, they should have declared that. There were four hearings conducted before the final order was passed, but they could not produce the required documents,” said Mahatme. “There was a lot of mismatch between the certificate they had and what they were producing and what they were publishing.”
Mahtame added that the newspaper did get some documents from the SDM after the final order was over, which were examined separately.
“The due process was not followed in that and hence the authentication was cancelled. However, they have the option to appeal against the order,” he said.

ThePrint reached additional press registrar K. Satish Nambudiripad, who issued the order, for comment but there was no response at the time of publishing this report.

An I&B Ministry official said the registration certificate was withdrawn on the basis of Mahatme’s email, but added that no show-cause notice was issued to the paper by RNI before withdrawing the certificate.

Also read: The tale of a declining Left: Electorally irrelevant but politically significant

‘Attack on press freedom’

Calling the move an attack on the freedom of press, a CPM statement said it’s a sad day that the daily’s publication was stopped on Gandhi Jayanti.

Gautam Das, senior CPM leader from Tripura, told ThePrint that the act of cancelling the registration was purely on the basis of political vendetta at the behest of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state administration.

“It is a crackdown on dissent. It is an Emergency-like situation,” Das said.

Das was the editor of the daily till 2015, before Paul took over.

‘Flimsy grounds’

Started in 1979, Daily Desher Katha had a circulation of 57,000 till March. Tripura went to polls around the same time.

“After the BJP came to power earlier this year, the circulation of the paper went down by 45,000 as they cracked down on the transportation of the paper. Now they have put pressure on the district magistrate to ensure that the SDM cancels the authentication of the paper on flimsy grounds,” alleged Das.

Detailing the “flimsy grounds”, Das said the RNI portal still showed him as the editor of the newspaper, as opposed to the actual editor. Further, some pending paperwork about the registered owner of the news daily remained.

“Initially it was registered under the CPI(M) and then transferred to the Daily Desher Katha Society in 2010. In September, it was decided to transfer its registration to a trust by a registered deed,” said Das.

“The paperwork and filing of fresh affidavits were going on with the RNI and the DM. But the SDM decided to cancel the authentication stating that the proper field enquiry was yet to be completed,” he said.

Das added that it was unprecedented on the part of the RNI to withdraw the certificate on such a short notice.

Under the aegis of the I&B Ministry, the RNI deals with various aspects of newspaper registration in the country, including circulation verification, assigning titles, among others.

What the law says

As per the Press and Books Registration Act, the magistrate is empowered to authenticate a declaration made to him by the Press Registrar or any other person and can cancel the authentication if: the declaration was made on false representation or by concealing on any material fact; the newspaper is being published in contravention to the act; the printer or publisher has ceased to be the printer or publisher of the newspaper mentioned in such declaration.

The law states that the magistrate may cancel the declaration and forward a copy of the order to the person making the declaration and also to the Press Registrar.

Last year, the Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity had suspended 804 publications, including Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) mouthpiece Rashtra Dharma for non-submission of documents.

Also read: Silence speaks louder than words: What RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat didn’t mention

The same year, the Central government blacked out former Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar’s Independence Day speech on state broadcasters Doordarshan and All India Radio.

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