Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan on Wednesday said there was a broad consensus in the Cabinet on a law to protect journalists, but an enabling provision needed to be included in it to address complaints against the media as well.

Mr. Chavan refused to answer questions related to the probe into crime journalist J. Dey's killing on Saturday last. He said there was a lot of progress and a breakthrough was expected soon. He did not confirm if three persons were detained in connection with the killing.

The main provision of the draft bill was to make attacks on journalists a non-bailable offence. While the Cabinet seemed to agree there was need for a law, there were Ministers, from both the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), who felt that this law would set a precedent.

Adding to the apprehension, a senior Congress Minister said that like doctors, who had a law in place to protect them, various groups, including industrialists or the film community and others would also demand a similar law.

Mr. Chavan said the existing draft bill, formulated at the time of the former Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, needed to be improved and a committee of four or five senior Ministers would look into it and prepare a final draft. He assured the media that a bill would be introduced in the next session of the legislature. He, however, did not name the Ministers who would be on the committee.

He said he had tried to achieve a consensus among different political parties. The copy of the draft he had did not have an enabling provision to file complaints against the media. At a meeting with a delegation of journalists earlier in the week, the need to have an arrangement like the Press Council of India was discussed where complaints against the press can be admitted.

Mr. Chavan said that just as journalists had grievances against bureaucrats and politicians, there were serious grievances against journalists too. The idea was to have a balanced viewpoint. There was need for some platform to file complaints against journalists. There was a serious concern about the role of some journalists.

The Chief Minister appealed to the media to help plug that hole and make the proposed provision a genuine redressal forum.

However, journalists who were members of the drafting committee of the earlier bill said there was a provision for complaints against journalists to be verified. There was some idea of a code of conduct mooted in the draft.

On the question of the transfer of Assistant Commissioner of Police (Zone 1) Anil Mahabole, Mr. Chavan reiterated that since Mr. Mahabole was an ACP-level officer, he would have to approve the transfer. And he had not signed any transfer papers. “How can you assume he is transferred” he asked.

However, police sources did confirm that Mr. Mahabole is now in charge of the local arms control room. J Dey had met Home Minister R.R. Patil last month and drawn his attention to a report of the Anti Corruption Bureau in which Mahabole had figured. This issue was also discussed in the Cabinet and it was felt that the Police Commissioner or the Home Department should have clarified the matter on the day it happened.

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