In yet another crackdown on press freedom, the BJP-led government in Tripura has cancelled the registration of Daily Desher Katha, a 40-year-old Bengali language newspaper run by the principal opposition party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The publication of the newspaper, which has the second largest circulation in the North Eastern state, has been stopped for alleged violation of the Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867.
Reacting strongly to the BJP government’s move to muzzle opposition voices, the newspaper’s former editor Gautam Das termed October 1, as a ‘black day’.
“A popular newspaper of 40 years long standing has been gagged most illegally as it is exposing the ruling class bravely,” he said in a post on social media.
The polit bureau of the CPI(M) too came out strongly against the BJP government in Tripura.
“The district magistrate of West Tripura has cancelled the registration of the newspaper on flimsy and dubious grounds and consequently the Registrar of Newspapers has also withdrawn the certificate of registration. This is a brazen attack on the freedom of the press. It is a sad day that Deshar Katha has stopped publication on October 2, Gandhi Jayanti,” said a polit bureau statement.
According to the New Indian Express, a notice in this regard was sent by the office of Registrar of Newspapers for India (RNI) to the newspaper, which read:
“The Office of the Registrar of Newspapers for India is in receipt of an email from the office of the district magistrate (DM) and collector, West Tripura, Agartala, enclosing a communication from sub-divisional magistrate, Sadar, West Tripura…cancelling the authentication as recorded by him over the declaration made in form 1 by (editor) Shri Samir Paul, s/o Late Sudhir Paul, regarding the Bengali daily newspaper Daily Desher Katha.
“Accordingly this office is treating the certificate of registration…as invalid and the certificate of registration so issued stands withdrawn”.
Sources said the BJP government’s action seemed well thought out as it followed a complaint lodged with the DM of West Tripura by one Shyamlal Debnath, alleging that the newspaper had violated the Act concerned.
However, Rahul Sinha, a senior reporter with the daily, denied any violation and alleged that ever since the BJP formed the government in March this year, it had been trying to close down the newspaper.
“We have been facing threats and bureaucratic hurdles constantly, our reporters are being beaten up, and our hawkers and agents are being threatened to stop distributing our newspaper”, he told The Wire.
Sinha told The Wire, that the cancellation of Daily Desher Katha’s registration “might be the first instance in the history of Indian journalism when the RNI withdrew its own order hours after it issued it. This is a clear case of gagging and an attack on fundamental rights and the whole democratic structure.”
According the report, Sinha was referring to the RNI order, dated October 1, in which the agency had issued a revised registration for the daily only to render it invalid within a day.