Ban on doorstep delivery of newspapers exceptional move: Maharashtra govt

The circular said while newspapers can be sold at stalls, their door-to-door distribution by vendors cannot be permitted at this stage
The Maharashtra government said its decision to prohibit door- to-door delivery of newspapers (currently in force only in Covid-19 hotspots and containment zones) was an exceptional policy move and in no way violates the freedom of the press.

The Maharashtra government on Thursday told the Bombay High Court bench, quoting experts, that the coronavirus stays on surfaces for a long time and the passing of newspapers from one hand to another could increase the chances of widespread coronavirus infection.  

Ealier, the Press Council of India (PCI) also issued a notice to the Maharashtra government over prohibition of door-to-door delivery of newspapers and magazines in the state, seeking an explanation and expressing concern over the issue.

The state, in an affidavit filed before Justice N W Sambre, said newspapers are not an essential item and hence prohibition on its doorstep distribution cannot be said to be infringing upon any fundamental rights.

The affidavit, filed by Ravindra Thakare, Nagpur Collector on behalf of the state, was responding to a petition filed by the Maharashtra Union of Working Journalists (MUWJ) andthe NagpurUnion of Working Journalists (NUWJ), challenging a government circular issued on April 18.

The circular said while newspapers can be sold at stalls, their door-to-door distribution by vendors cannot be permitted at this stage looking at the rapid spread of coronavirus in Maharashtra, the state worst-affected by COVID-19 in the country.

The government clarified that a blanket ban on door- to-door delivery of newspapers has been lifted and now the prohibition is limited only in Mumbai, Pune and coronavirus containment zones in other districts of the state.

Mumbai and Pune are the top two cities worst-hit by the deadly disease in the state.

The affidavit claimed the aim of the government was to control and reduce the spread of COVID-19 pandemic.

According to experts, Covid-19 virus can stay on various surfaces for a considerable amount of time and the newspaper is something that will be passed on by hand to hand by various people which may increase the chances of infection spreading, the affidavit said.

Newspaper cannot be considered an essential need unlike food items. Citizens can still get e-papers through the Internet for daily reading.

"Hence, prohibition of door-to-door distribution of newspapers by no means infringes upon the right of the freedom of the press, the state said.

It added that there are several areas or districts that are now coronavirus-free or where the prevalence of the virus is negligible.

The circulation of a non-essential item which is printed elsewhere in these coronavirus-free areas may lead to resurgence of the infection, the affidavit said.

The government said this was an exceptional policy decision taken by the state under an extraordinary situation as an important temporary measure to control the outbreak of the pandemic, which has infected more than 5,600 people so far in Maharashtra.

The intentions behind these policy decisions related to the lockdown are in the interest of the citizens to ensure their wellbeing and safety.

"These are judicious, fair, and transparent and are neither arbitrary nor permanent in nature, the affidavit said.

Justice Sambre took note of the affidavit and posted the matter for further hearing on June 15.

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