The Bombay High Court's bench at Aurangabad on Monday sought a logical explanation from the state government on its decision to impose a blanket ban on door-to-door delivery of newspapers and magazines, even though print media is exempted from the ongoing nationwide lockdown.
Justice Prasanna B Varale heard the case after taking suo-motu cognizance of news reports regarding notification signed by Ajoy Mehta, Chief Secretary of Maharashtra and observed in an order dated April 20-
"The 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."
But, the bench had also questioned the logic behind allowing printing of newspapers and its sale in stalls and shops already established on one hand and the prohibition on door-to-door delivery on the other.
On Monday, Government Pleader DR Kale filed an affidavit in reply on behalf of the State and also apprised the Court about an amendment to the State's order which clarifies that wherever door to door delivery is done, it shall be with the knowledge of receiver and the delivery of newspaper personnel, shall bear mask and use hand sanitizer and maintain social distancing. However, door to door delivery of newspapers and magazines is prohibited in Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) and in all containment zones as may be decided by the District Magistrates.
As for a logical explanation to the blanket ban on door-to-door delivery in these three regions, Kale relied on the affidavit which states-
"I say that according to the experts, COVID-19 virus can stay on various surfaces for a considerable amount of time and the newspaper is something that will be passed on by hand to hand by various people which can increases the chances of infection spreading to more number of people."
Court did not take kindly to this explanation and observed-
"It seems that this is only a general and sweeping statement made in affidavit in reply. There is no reference to any comment of the experts in the field or any opinion formed by any body working in the health area. On the contrary, the statements of certain experts published in the newspapers are to the effect that there is no need to carry an impression that the newspaper is a medium for spreading coronavirus."
Furthermore, Justice Varale noted-
"At the cost of repetition, I may state that in order dated 20th April, 2020 this Court specifically observed that the 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 and no reason or any data is coming forth to provide a logical explanation to the addendum order dated 18th April, 2020 whereby blanket ban was imposed on door to door delivery.
It may not be out of place to state that certain news items are published in newspaper showing that in the lockdown period not only the readership of the newspapers is increased but the average time spent for reading newspapers is also increased in this period as the public general is interested to know latest updates and information through the newspapers. It may also not be out of place to state that the newspaper 'Lokmat' prints the statement which reads in Marathi "Vritipatr Virus Mukt Aahe" meaning newspaper is virus free."
Finally the bench reiterated that there was no logical explanation to the blanket ban-
"On the backdrop of above referred facts, one fails to understand the logic behind the statement made in the affidavit in reply in para-9 that the newspaper is something that will be passed on by hand to hand by various people which can increase the chances of infection spreading to more number of people."
Amicus Curiae Stayajeet Bora submitted that recently an order was passed by the Division Bench of Madras High Court in a petition seeking directions to ban the newspapers distribution and this petition was dismissed. Bora prayed for an amendment to the petition so as to place on record a copy of the order of the Madras High Court as well as to raise certain grounds and accordingly. The oral prayer for amendment was allowed.
A copy of the order of the nagpur bench on the same issue dated April 20 was also submitted in Court.
After GP DR Kale sought more time to file another affidavit, Court granted three weeks time. This matter will now be heard on June 11.
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