The West Bengal Government's move to restrict newspapers subscribed by State libraries and those sponsored or aided by the State to a specified list evoked strong reactions from across the political spectrum and civil society here on Wednesday even as the State Government ruled out the possibility of revoking the order.
State Minister for Mass Education Extension and Library Services Abdul Karim Chowdhury dug his heels in and told journalists: “There is no question of withdrawing it (the order on purchase of newspapers).”
The order states that “it has been felt necessary in public interest that no government fund will be spent for purchase of newspapers or dailies published and/or purported to be published by any political party…as a measure to develop free thinking among the readers.”
Although the order states that the measure has been taken to ensure that government funds are not spent on purchasing newspapers aligned to any political party, the prescribed list includes three dailies — Sangbad Pratidin, Sanmarg and Akhbar-E-Mashriq — the editors and proprietors of which are Rajya Sabha MPs of the Trinamool Congress.
Not a single English daily features in the specified list of eight newspapers — five Bengali, two Urdu and one Hindi.
Two Bengali dailies with the highest circulation in their category have also been left out.
Mr. Chowdhury met Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee during the day after which he said: “We have done this according to the government's policy and according to the due process of law.”
Leader of the Opposition in the West Bengal Assembly Surya Kanta Mishra, however, said that the Libraries Services Minister was “summoned” by the Chief Minister “to ensure that her decision is implemented with vigour”.
The government decision has not gone down well with the Congress either, an ally of the Trinamool and a constituent of the ruling coalition. West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee (WBPCC) president Pradeep Bhattacharya pointed out that the circulation figures of the newspapers mentioned in the order are well below those that have been given a miss.
Renowned litterateur Mahasweta Devi, who is known to be close to Ms. Banerjee and has made an appearance in several of Trinamool's public rallies, said: “There is no way that such a decision can be supported.”