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'Release ads to Patrika': Supreme Court orders Rajasthan govt

Catch Team | Updated on: 3 September 2016, 16:15 IST

The Supreme Court has ordered the Rajasthan government to release government advertisements to the Rajasthan Patrika newspaper.

A bench comprising Justices AK Sikri and DY Chandrachud issued a verbal order to this effect on Friday.

Appearing for the newspaper, which is also Rajasthan's largest circulating daily, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi argued that the state government was violating its own advertisement policy and discriminating against the group. Singhvi presented the figures before the court, which suggested that the Rajasthan Patrika had received 34.12% government advertisement in 2015. Whereas, this year only 1.26% of the total government ads have been allocated to it.

Terming the gag as a "direct assault on the freedom of the press," Singhvi alleged the government was being vindictive because of some articles that were critical of the state government. He demanded a restoration of a minimum of 35% ads to the paper.

Earlier, Additional Solicitor General PS Narasimha admitted that the government has not issued ads to the newspaper in 2016. But he also assured that the state government would issue ads within the next four weeks. The court asked the government to fulfill this guarantee and told the newspaper to re-approach the court if it fails to fulfill this commitment.

Rajasthan Patrika had claimed in its plea that it has a daily circulation of over 16 lakhs and denying its advertisements in such a situation would be denying the right of information to the people. In the last hearing, senior advocate Kapil Sibal had pleaded the case of the daily claiming the court cannot allow the government to punish a newspaper. The next date of the hearing will be held after four weeks.

Varun Gandhi speaks out

In a related development, BJP leader Varun Gandhi also said that it was incorrect for the state government to withdraw ads just because of critical news reports.

"I have heard that a state government has withdrawn advertisements to the largest newspaper in that state. This is unjustified. State governments only seem to give advertisements to newspapers that refrain from criticising them," he said at a function in Lucknow.

According to Gandhi, the DAVP policy "was a threat to freedom of speech."

Earlier, Kantilal Bhuria, a Congress member of Parliament from Madhya Pradesh, had raised the issue in the Parliament. Bhuria sought permission in Lok Sabha to discuss a ban by the central and some state governments on giving government advertisements to the Rajasthan Patrika Group of publications.

When Speaker Sumitra Mahajan denied permission, documents regarding the matter were submitted.

Patrika is one of the country's biggest newspapers with 37 editions across states and a readership of over 1.25 crore. The Rajasthan government hasn't given any ads to the newspaper since December last year. Earlier, the BJP governments in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh had resorted to similar tactics. However, their undeclared ban was lifted after the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the Patrika group.

Now, the central government has cut down heavily on advertisements given to the Patrika group through the DAVP since 23 June. It has cited no reason for the decision.

The move has been criticised by leaders across the political spectrum.

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First published: 3 September 2016, 16:15 IST