Continuing its protest against the draconian ordinance introduced by Vasundhara Raje led BJP government in Rajasthan, the Hindi daily, Rajasthan Patrika on Thursday, 16 November, left its editorial blank, with a thick black border, The Hindu reported.
This was done as an attempt to register its strong opposition to the controversial criminal law ordinance that puts restrictions on the media and gives protection to public servants.
16 November is celebrated as the National Press Day in India – a day to commemorate free and responsible press in the country. Rajasthan Patrika has chosen this day to voice its protest against the ‘black’ ordinance.
What is the ‘black’ ordinance about?
On 7 September, post the assent of the governor, the Rajasthan government promulgated the Criminal Laws (Rajasthan Amendment) Ordinance, 2017, that seeks to protect serving and former judges, magistrates and public servants in the state from being investigated for on-duty action and the reporting of the same by the media – without its prior sanction.
The Bill was introduced in the State Assembly on 23 October. It has now been referred to a Select Committee for reconsideration but the ordinance is still in force, and thus the journalists continue to face the government’s punitive actions.
According to the new ordinance, not only will the judges, magistrates and public servants in the state not face investigation for on-duty action but the media will also be barred from printing or publishing or publicizing in any manner the name, address, photograph, family details or any other particulars which may lead to disclosure of identity of the aforementioned dignitaries.
The Ordinance also calls for the insertion of a new provision – Section 228-B – to the Indian Penal Code. This new provision will make those who contravene the above provisos liable to be punished with imprisonment of up to two years and a fine.
This is not the first time a state government has introduced such amendments in the recent past. The Maharashtra government had also passed an amendment to the CrPC in 2016, as a result of which Magistrates will not be able to order registration of FIRs against public servants without prior sanction of the government.
However, the ambit of the amendment proposed by the Rajasthan government is wider because it includes both the retired as well as the serving judges, and poses a serious threat to press freedom.
The ordinance attracted flak from various quarters
The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), a civil rights group, the Editor’s Guild and eminent legal experts have come out in the open to protest against the ordinance which, they opined, would drastically reduce the freedom of the press that has been guaranteed by the Constitution of India.
Two BJP MLAs Ghanshyam Tiwari and Narpat Singh Rajvi had come out in opposition to the ordinance claiming that it would be a ‘dark day’ for Indian democracy if the ordinance is passed.
Earlier too, the Rajasthan Patrika had raised their voices against the draconian ordinance, in an editorial piece written by Rajasthan Patrika editor-in-chief Gulab Kothari. The piece said that Rajasthan has become akin to a “totalitarian rule”, one where Freedom of Press and free speech are gagged – all because of the publication’s efforts in exposing the looting, plundering, anarchy and corruption in the state.
In his scathing front-page editorial piece, Kothari had written about how the state government had vested interests in passing the gagging ordinance as that would save the skins of corrupt officials and prevent any further investigation into the misdoings of the government.
Since then, the Hindi daily has been publishing an eye-catching “lock”, titled Jab Tak Kaala, Tab Tak Taala (It is locked till the black law is in force), on the front page every day. The “lock” signifies issues involving democracy, freedom of expression and supremacy of people’s voice.
The Rajasthan High Court’s Jodhpur and Jaipur Benches have issued notices to the Centre and the State government on as many as eight writ petitions that challenged the ordinance. The State government has not yet filed its reply to the Court.
The Logical Indian appreciates the bold move of the Rajasthan Patrika that it has taken to protest against the gagging ordinance that is in prevalence in the state. The step by the Hindi daily represents the opinion of all those who opined that this ordinance is against the democratic spirit of the country.