Dubious Associations recognized, Eligibility Rules Breached
Chairman’s dissent note renders 13th PCI illegitimate
IFWJ urges President to intervene
Legal issues decided not by rules, but by vote
NEW DELHI : Justice C.K. Prasad, chairman of the Press Council of India and a former judge of the Supreme Court, has declared the PCI scrutiny committee ultra vires. The chairman’s judgment is : “The recommendation of the Scrutiny Committee, as approved by majority the Press Council, suffers from the vice of procedural and substantive ultra vires.” The full text can be seen on PCI website.
The Press Council, (for notification by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, for the 13th term) had finalized its recommendations at its last meeting at Srinagar (Kashmir) on 9 October 2017.
In an unprecedented action Justice Prasad pointed to the glaring and blatant violations of law by the Council members. Of the total 29 members only 14 (less than half) attended the last meeting. None of the five M.P.s, nominated by the Lok Sabha Speaker and Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, were present. So did the three other nominees of the U.G.C. the Bar Council of India and the Sahitya Akademy.
Significantly all the 14 nominess present are from claimant- associations who are again in the run for renomination. Thus they voted for their own candidature, making mockery of the Press Council rule. Justice Prasad points to certain brazen and open transgressions of Eligibility Rules which were published in 2016 in PCI advertisements in newspapers, inviting claim application for the 13th term. Non-compliance of these rules is certainly illegal. The Scrutiny Committee and Council precisely did this. It ignored these rules with impunity. The seven-member Scrutiny Committee, contrary to published eligibility rules, framed its own “guiding principles” which are illegal.
A. The Chairman mentions the stipulation that “every document, filed by a claimant, had to be attested by Notary Public as the advertisement required, Several bodies/associations have filed documents which are not authenticated by a notary public. The Scrutiny Committee has, however, dispensed with this requirement and decided to accept the self-attested documents from the associations/bodies. No public notice was issued for the purpose. Thus the decision, taken by the Scrutiny Committee, overrides the terms of the advertisement, which in my opinion is impermissible in law”.
B. “The notice further made it clear that claim, not in conformity with the terms of notice, is liable to be rejected. From the perusal of the preliminary scrutiny note, it is evident that many of the supportive documents which were required to be accompanied with the claim were not filed before the due date.”
C. The Chairman’s Note said the claimants, in terms of the notice inviting claims, were required to subscribe to a declaration that they are free from all encumbrances, and no claim made by any person other than a person duly authorized under the constitution of the organization shall be entertained. Few of the associations/bodies who have been found eligible and recognized by the Scrutiny Committee have not fulfilled these requirements.”
D. “The criteria drawn by the Council inter alia prohibits notification of such associations whose membership is confined within the specified category or to any particular group on regional or language basis, etc. One of the associations which have been recognized has its membership confined to a specified category of journalists and, therefore, not eligible for recognition.” (It is about Convener Uttamchand Sharma’s own association: Hindi Samachar Patrakar Sammelan, which is restricted to the Hindi belt only. It excludes newspapers of 16 other Indian languages. The Convener voted himself for his own association’s claim and got it approved).
E. “Even today all the requirements have not been fulfilled by few associations and the Scrutiny Committee has recommended for their recognition.”
F. “As per the notice, the claimants were required to file papers before the appropriate authority, i.e., Registrar of Societies, etc. to prove their active existence. Several associations/bodies who have been recommended for recognition by the Scrutiny Committee, have not fulfilled this criteria as per the advertisement notice.”
G. “Further, the constitution of the Scrutiny Committee and the procedure followed for its constitution, in my opinion, is vulnerable for many reasons.”
H. Further, the constitution of the Scrutiny Committee, in the extraordinary meeting of the Council is also illegal for more than one reasons. The constitution of Scrutiny Committee was not an item on the agenda. Therefore, this issue was not to be discussed or decision taken. Further, this is in the teeth of the Council’s earlier resolution dated 22nd October 2016, which mandates that in the extraordinary meeting of the Council, deliberation in relation to the item shown in the agenda can only take place. Thus the decision to constitute the Scrutiny Committee suffers from this vice also.”
I. “Thus, in my opinion, the recommendation of the Scrutiny Committee, as approved by the Council by majority suffers from the vice of procedural and substantive ultra vires.” Justice Prasad’s remarks that the Scrutiny Committee was constituted at a meeting when it was not on the Council agenda itself is a very serious legal issue. It cannot stand any judicial scrutiny.
Here are IFWJ’s submissions
1. The Patiala House District Court, New Delhi, had once again adjourned the hearing on 3 October on the civil suit between Mr. Suresh Akhouri’s I.J.U. versus K. Srinivasa Reddy (S.N. Sinha’s IJU). The civil court No:6481/16 has been hearing for the past six years (since 2011). The issue of IJU election (Suresh Akhouri versus S.N. Sinha) is subjudice. The PCI cannot substitute the Patiala House District Court in deciding the IJU legal dispute.
2. The Press Association, New Delhi, has not updated its registration for 41 long years. The PCI notification requires that every claimant must file to the PCI its annual returns and submit the copy, after attestation by the Appropriate Authority, i.e. the Registrar of Societies. The Press Association has not filed for four decades now, its annual returns, audited accounts, list of elected office-bearers etc. with the Delhi-NCT Govt. as per the PCI stipulation.
3. Similarly the Working News Cameramen’s Association has lost its legal status 39 years ago. Many of its office-bearers, presently as on the records of the Registrar of Societies, New Delhi, died ten to 15 years ago. The rest have retired. Mr. S.N. Sinha who claims to be its President was never recorded / registered as such.
In its fervent plea to every member of the Press Association, the Working News Cameramen’s Association and the Journalists Union (S.N. Sinha), the Indian Federation of Working Journalists has asked them to tell their office-bearers to re-establish their legal entity by updating their records with the Registrar of Societies, Daryaganj, Delhi, and the Deputy Registrar of Trade Unions, Canning Lane, New Delhi. This may protect them against adverse verdict from the High Court. Till now the PCI counsel by deliberate procrastination used to get the IFWJ petition infructious. Three petitions in 12 years faced repeated adjournments. But now the Chairman’s note will radically alter the legal status of the PCI. No High Court can ignore the former Supreme Court judge’s findings. The IFWJ stands for unity and not recrimination. It had midwifed the Press Council in 1965.
5th November 2017
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