Bom HC | Ban on distribution of newspapers: Court takes suo moto cognizance; Issues notice to State Govt.

Bombay High Court: Prasanna B. Varale, J., took cognizance on the news item published in daily newspaper ‘Lokmat’, in its issue dated 19-04-2020 as well as an Article published in e-newspaper, ‘The Hindu’ under caption “Maharashtra allows printing but bans distribution of newspapers”.

The above stated news items were with regard to a notification signed by the Chief Secretary, Ajoy Mehta issued with a statement, “Print Media is hereby exempted from lockdown from 20-04-2020”. However, door-to-door delivery of newspapers and magazines is prohibited.

Chief Minister, Uddhav Thackeray’s statement was also referred by the court, wherein it was stated that,

“While we support its operation and the need to reach out to the people, we want to also ensure the highest safety from a virus that the world is still grappling with. The sale of print media newspapers, magazines and production is allowed at stalls/shops already established, as deemed fit by the media houses. We urge the media to refrain from home deliveries.”

Bench stated that,

The Chief Minister, in his statement states that the sale of print media newspapers, magazines and production is allowed at stalls/shops already established, as deemed fit by the media houses, on the other hand the door-to-door delivery of the newspapers is prohibited.

Further the Court observed that,

If the State Government is permitting the general public to approach the stalls and shops to purchase the newspapers meaning thereby there would be one reason or excuse for them to move out of the houses in the lockdown period, it would certainly cause some movements on the streets and on the other hand, the State Government is prohibiting the door-to- door delivery/distribution of newspapers, whereby the public general may get the newspapers at the door-step through the delivery boys and need not move on the streets for purchase of newspapers.

It is not made known in the said notification as to whether the decision is taken having regard to the various areas or districts or it is a blanket decision.

State Government, having regard to the spread of coronavirus can certainly consider the issue of restricting door-to-door delivery of newspapers in particular areas.

In view of the above, Court stated that,

One also fails to understand a logic behind the situation, wherein the newspapers are permitted to be printed and published by the media houses but they are not permitted to be distributed door-to-door and there is only a restricted distribution.

Though majority of the newspapers are available by way of e-paper mode, it is not possible for majority to have an access to the same as they may not conversant with technology.

Thus, Court taking cognizance of the above issue, appointed Mr Satyajit Bora as an amicus curiae to assist the Court.

Notice issued to respondent. [Registrar (Judicial) High Court of Judicature of Bombay v. State of Maharashtra, 2020 SCC OnLine Bom 604 , decided on 20-04-2020]

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