Two of Nepal's most respected newspapers, Kantipur and Kathmandu Post, may have to suspend publication soon if customs authorities in Kolkata refuse to release newsprint, which has been held back for “investigation.”
According to a report in Kathmandu Post, its consignments have been detained at the Kolkata port since May 27. One thousand tonnes of newsprint, imported from Canada and South Korea in 39 containers, have been held back, with the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence saying they need to be “investigated.”
“No investigation, however, has been carried out despite repeated requests. Nor has Kantipur Publications been given a clear explanation for the continued delay, which has meant heavy demurrage and the possibility of the newsprint getting damaged,” the newspaper said.
In Kathmandu, the unprecedented stoppage of newsprint is being seen as an attempt to pressure the two newspapers to adopt a more favourable attitude to the Madhav Kumar Nepal government, which India is backing against the Maoists. Along with the delay in clearing newsprint supplies, the fact that major Indian companies have stopped advertising in both newspapers is also being seen as evidence of pressure tactics.
South Block officials deny any knowledge of the delay in customs clearance. “We are not aware of this… We don't indulge in such cheap tactics,” a senior official told The Hindu.
On Wednesday, the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu issued a statement: “Customs examination of transit consignments is a routine administrative measure and the imputation of motives in such a matter by two newspapers, which seek to lay claim to responsible journalism, is highly regrettable.”
But Kathmandu Post insists that this is the first time newsprint meant for Nepal's publications has been held in an Indian port for “investigation.” “According to the Nepal-Indian transit treaty,” it adds, “no consignment in transit can be withheld without explanation.”
In its editorials, Kantipur has been asking Mr. Nepal to step down and has called for a national unity government, a stand the Indian embassy in Kathmandu believes is furthering the agenda of the Maoists. The newspaper also prominently covered the killings of Nepalis in recent ethnic clashes in Meghalaya. Indian officials felt that the reportage was distorted and exaggerated.
A South Block official acknowledged his being unhappy with the stance of the two newspapers. “Kathmandu Post and Kantipur have always written against us.” But he denied any knowledge of the delay in clearance of their newsprint.