NEW DELHI: The BJP government in Tripura has used a technicality to shut down the pro-Left Bengali daily Daily Desher Katha, evoking a strong reaction from the media. The Editors Guild described the decision as a draconian step to restrict the freedom of the media, and urged the state government to revoke the decision.

CPI(M) leader and founder of Daily Desher Katha Gautam Das said it was “a political move.”

The registration of the daily was cancelled by the Registrar of Newspapers for India (RNI) on the grounds that there had been an “unauthorised change of ownership.” The RNI letter to Daily Desher Katha maintained that its registration was cancelled on the basis of a report from the sub-divisional magistrate regarding an alleged violation of the Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867.

The daily has the second largest circulation in Tripura, and is run by the principal opposition party in the northeastern state, the CPI(M).

The Editors Guild, taking strong exception to the move, stated that to cancel the registration of a publication on the mere finding that there was “a mismatch between the information of the editor, printer and publisher, was not only a gross overreaction but also a draconian step that restricts freedom of the media.” It further demanded “immediate revocation of the order on the cancellation of the registration of Daily Desher Katha, pending further inquiry into the charges of misinformation. It also demands that a thorough inquiry is instituted by the government to investigate whether the decision was politically motivated.”

This step by the BJP government has rung alarm bells across the media, given that a technical pretext has been used by the government to shut down a daily of some 40 years' standing, on October 2, Gandhi Jayanti. In an environment where the independent media is feeling threatened, this action has provoked senior editors to share their concerns through their statement on this specific issue.

Earlier a local, one Shyamal Debnath, lodged a complaint with the district magistrate of West Tripura, alleging that the newspaper had violated the 1867 Act. The DM told the local media that after receiving the complaint, his office sent notices to both parties and conducted four hearings, which uncovered “gross violations.”

The newspaper termed the ban “illegal” and said that it had been carried out under political instructions.

Political rivalries exist in every state, and political parties have long been running and funding newspapers and television channels. Shutting down a newspaper is serious action by a government and a direct infringement of press freedom. This is the first such instance in any state in recent years, with direct government intervention on the basis of a complaint on a technical issue resulting in a ban.