editor arrested to silence a newspaper
Guild of India appointed a three-member fact finding committee consisting
of Ajit Bhattacharjee, Om Thanvi, and G.S. Bhargava to inquire
into the circumstances of the arrest of Satish Kumar, Editor of the Mazdoor
Morcha of Faridabad on August 18, 2001. This was in response to complaints
of improper legal procedures followed by the local Superintendent of Police,
Ranbir Sharma, to silence the Editor and his paper. We reproduce below
the report of the Guild - Chief Editor).
The evidence available to the committee points clearly to flagrant misuse
of executive authority to arrest an editor and silence a local newspaper,
which had criticised administrative officials by name, especially the
local Superintendent of Police. If the allegations were false, the law
provides legal procedures for redress, which were not attempted. In any
case, such misuse of authority to silence the press cannot be condoned.
In addition to stopping publication of a paper it leads, as in the present
instance, to inhibiting journalists from doing their duty to report valid
cases of corruption and misuse of authority.
At the same time, the line between, legitimate exposure of corruption
and unsubstantiated personal allegations must be maintained by the media
if it is to retain credibility. In this case, we feel it necessary to
record our concern with the provocative language and tone of some of the
allegations published in the paper without stated source of substantiation.
Another issue that figured in this case concerns allegations published
in the paper without stated source or substantiation.
Another issue that figured in this case concerns allegations of the false
circulation figures claimed to secure advertisements. This was used to
buttress the charges against the Editor with evidence that we found to
be full of holes. But they also drew attention to the unprincipled manner
in which government advertisements are given to district papers, creating
occasion for trading charges of corruption and blackmail.
From the start, the arrest of Satish Kumar on August 18, 2001, showed
signs of misuse of authority. The FIR was registered at the unusual hour
of 3.15 am and he was picked up from his residence four hours later. The
FIR itself is vague. It charges the "owners and publishers"
of nine local papers with furnishing false circulation figures and exercising
undue pressure on HUDA officials to obtain undue advertisements. No names
were mentioned. The FIR stated that advertisements worth lakhs of rupees
had been issued a day or two before the budget lapsed on March 31, 2000,
and that certain officials had complained that they were pressurized into
issuing advertisements by threats of publishing derogatory stories about
It was on the basis of such unsubstantiated allegations that Satish Kumar
was promptly arrested in contravention of Supreme Court rulings laying
down that no arrests should be made on "merely allegation of commission
of offence and suspicion of complicity in offence." Though nine papers
were mentioned, nobody else was taken into custody. Another journalist,
Ajay Bothra, was taken to the police station and released. Satish Kumar
was clearly the target.
Inquires by the Guild team reveal further inconsistencies. The FIR had
been registered in August 2001 though the offence was said to have occurred
in March 2000. Neither the HUDA Administrator, Vijendra Kumar, nor the
Estate Officer M.S. Yadav, was posted in Faridabad at the time. When asked
why the case was filed, they said it was in response to a complaint "from
outside". Ms. G. Anupama, who was Administrator in March 2000, and
now posted in Chandigarh, said no irregularity had come to her notice.
Further, the Committee was informed that according to Haryana Government
instructions advertisements were to be issued only by the Director of
Public Relations in Chandigarh. No explanation was available as to how
advertisements had been issued in Faridabad. No details were provided
to support the charge of inflated circulation figures, which, in any case,
comes under the exclusive purview of the Registrar of Newspapers of India.
Despite these inconsistencies, Satish Kumar was denied bail by the duty
magistrate and remanded to police custody. His appeal to the Sessions
Court was also rejected. The date for hearing his bail application in
the Punjab & Haryana High Court was set for three months later, which
would have extended his pre-trial detention to nearly five months. The
matter was then taken to the Supreme Court, which directed the High Court
to dispose of it within a week. On October 8, 2001 he was released on
bail after seven weeks in jail.
Meanwhile, the Faridabad police took steps to prevent publication of the
'Mazdoor Morcha'. The printer of the paper discontinued printing and no
other printer in Faridabad was willing to print it. We are told that efforts
to print it in Delhi have also been blocked. A criminal suit has been
filed against Satish Kumar by name on a charge of using a false print
line. At the same time, the District Magistrate has issued a notice for
cancellation of the registration of the paper. When these formalities
are completed, 'Mazdoor Morcha' may be finally silenced.
The Superintendent of Police, Ranbir Sharma, complained to the committee
that Satish Kumar made a practice of publishing scandalous and unfounded
personal allegations against officials, which was why the administration,
including the judiciary, was hostile to him. A lead Item had been published
accusing him of buying a house for Rs 18 lakhs of which Rs 10 lakhs was
paid in black money, with no supporting evidence. Other unsupported allegations
of corruption and dishonesty against him had been published.
The committee examined copies of 'Mazdoor Morcha', which had headlined
such allegations. They were suggestive and unsubstantiated. We felt that
rather than curbing corruption, they damaged the credibility of the Press.
However, if false, the correct procedure for dealing with them was to
sue the offender for defamation. Misuse of police powers to silence the
editor or paper suggested that that there could be elements of truth in
We found that journalists in Faridabad were reluctant to report on such
We were informed that even editors of Delhi newspapers were unwilling
to publish news critical of Ranbir Sharma. One reason for his influence,
we were told, was that he is the son-in-law of the Union Minister of State
for Home Affairs, I.D. Swami. -- Ajit Bhattacharjee