The Bombay High Court's bench at Aurangabad took suo-motu cognizance of newspaper reports regarding a circular/notification signed by Chief Secretary Ajoy Mehta whereby print media was exempted from lockdown but the door-to-door delivery of magazines and newspapers was prohibited.
Justice PB Varale referred to news published in 'Lokmat' and 'The Hindu' regarding this notification and Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray's statement issued on twitter which states-.
"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."
Court pointed out that the dichotomy of the situation as on one hand the Chief Secretary states in the notification that print media is exempted from lock down from April 20, 2020, 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.
The bench observed-
"One fails to understand, when the State Government is permitting the purchase of newspapers at the stalls and the shops established, as to why the door-to-door delivery of the newspapers is prohibited. If the State Government is permitting the public general to approach the stalls and shops to purchase the newspapers meaning thereby there would be one reason or excuse for the public general 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 general public may get the newspapers at their door-step through the delivery boys and need not move on the streets for purchase of newspapers."
Furthermore, Court noted that magazines are published periodically i.e. weekly or monthly, whereas the newspapers are published on a daily basis and distributed to the consumers daily as well.
"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. One also fails to understand the 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."
Justice Varale also observed that the said notification is silent on whether the decision is applicable to various areas or districts or it is a blanket decision of the State Government without any such consideration of the areas or districts.
Moreover, Court also reasoned that the general public may not be as tech savvy and find it difficult to access e-paper-
"It is common knowledge that though the majority of newspapers are available by way of e-paper mode, it is not possible for the majority of the general public to have access to e-paper as they may not be conversant with the technology or are used to reading hard copies of a newspaper."
Court appointed Advocate Satyajit Bora as Amicus Curiae in the matter and issued notice to the State of Maharashtra returnable on April 24.
On Monday, the Nagpur bench had issued notice to the State after hearing a petition filed by Maharashtra Union of Working Journalists and Nagpur Union of Working Journalists wherein the said notice/circular was challenged.
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