Journalists in Mumbai went on a hunger strike here on Wednesday to protest against government inaction over the demand for a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into senior journalist J. Dey murder case. Later, they decided upon a legal course over this demand and suspended the relay fast until Bombay High Court's verdict, expected on Thursday.
The Patrakar Halla Virodhi Kruti Samiti (Committee against attacks on journalists) is firm on four demands: CBI probe, law to protect journalists, resignation of State Home Minister R. R. Patil and suspension of Mumbai Police Commissioner Arup Patnaik.
The Committee's convenor S. M. Deshmukh told The Hindu , “We do not trust the news of arrests and detentions. The police will arrest some non-entity as usual. They have released a sketch, but it is just part of their modus operandi. The real culprit should be arrested. Our suspicion is on the Mumbai police. So how can the same agency probe the case? If there is a CBI inquiry, we can hope for justice.”
Mr. Deshmukh said Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan had not given any assurance of a time-bound action. He said if there was a special law for journalists, it would instil fear among perpetrators.
“It will not stop the attacks 100 per cent, but will instil some fear. The current laws are not sufficient to protect journalists. Not a single person has been convicted in the past for such attacks,” he said.
Journalists across Maharashtra are believed to have joined the protest against J Dey's killing.
“It's a fast to protest against government inaction and their refusal to accept our demand for a CBI probe or laws to protect journalists,” Gurbir Singh, President of the Mumbai Press Club, said.
“A lot of us were disappointed with the meeting with Chief Minister. A law for journalists will act as a deterrent in two ways: one, the attackers will be behind bars, and two, by the imposition of a monetary penalty,” he said.
Asked about the plausibility of the demand for Mr. Patil's resignation, he said, “It's a question of assuming moral responsibility, because this is a law and order issue. The top bosses should take moral responsibility for the incident. There are 180 cases of attacks on journalists,” he said.
The Committee has sought appointments with the Prime Minister and Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
Support poured in for journalists from various quarters. Labour leader Sharad Rao paid a visit to the Mumbai Marathi Patrakar Sangh, the venue for the relay fast. Political parties too cashed in on the event. The Bharatiya Janata Party's Mumbai president Raj Purohit too came to express solidarity.
Interestingly, the Mumbai Youth Congress has backed the demand for a CBI probe. Its president, Sadaf Aboli said, “We have given a memorandum to the Chief Minister calling for a CBI inquiry, because we have read that he has objected to it.” The Youth Congress also organised a candle march to pay a tribute to J Dey.
At the end of the day's fast, journalists held a condolence meeting.
PIL at High Court
The demand for CBI inquiry received a shot in the arm on Wednesday as advocate V P Patil filed a public interest litigation in the Bombay High Court calling for a probe by the Central agency. The PIL is slated to come up for hearing on Thursday.
The Committee has decided to intervene in the PIL, citing lack of faith in the current police investigation.
“The Press Club and the Marathi Patrakar Parishad will be intervening in the PIL. We will cite additional grounds that we have no faith in the police as they have a nexus with the underworld,” senior journalist Jatin Desai told The Hindu.
The PIL demands a special law and calls for a special committee for “monitoring special protection to press reporters and RTI activists.”
Mr. Patil, who is the petitioner himself, said, “When there is inaction, action is needed.”
In addition, a writ petition was filed in the High Court by former journalist Ketan Tirodkar which will also be heard on Thursday.
“My grounds are that the Mumbai police are divided into two groups, with allegiance to rival underworld factions. Similarly, the crime journalists are also divided as per their affiliation to the factions in the police force. Given this situation, the police cannot conduct an impartial inquiry. The probe should therefore be handed over to the CBI,” Mr. Tirodkar said.
The Committee is awaiting the court's verdict to decide on the further course of action. Till then, the relay strike has been suspended.