Mumbai: The Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court has questioned the Maharashtra government’s decision to prohibit door-to-door distribution of newspapers after listing media as an essential service. The High Court has ordered the government to clarify the "logic" behind such a decision.

The court also observed that permitting the public to approach stalls to purchase papers would result in people stepping out of their homes and out onto the streets. It said allowing door to-door delivery would prevent this from happening.

While taking note of the rapid increase in coronavirus cases and the hotspots declared across Maharashtra, the bench, however, said that the government can restrict distribution in such red zones.

A bench of Justice Prasanna Varale referred to the statement of Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, that he supports newspaper operations and the need for the newspaper to reach out to the people.

"But there is hardly any logical explanation coming forward on the backdrop of the confusion -- on one hand, the Chief Secretary exempts the print media from the extended lockdown, the CM, on the other hand, states the sale of print media newspapers, magazines and production is allowed at stalls or shops," Justice Varale noted.

"But the door-to-door delivery of the newspapers is prohibited. One fails to understand, when the government is permitting the purchase of newspapers at the stalls and the shops, as to why the door-to door delivery of the newspapers is prohibited," Justice Varale added. The observations were made after the bench took up a suo motu public interest litigation regarding the restrictions imposed on the sale of newspapers.

The bench has, accordingly, ordered the state authorities to file their affidavits by April 27. During the course of the hearing, Justice Varale noted that if the sale of newspapers is allowed at stalls, this would result in the public coming out onto the streets.

"If the state is permitting the public to approach the stalls to purchase the newspapers, which means, there would be one more reason for the public to move out of the houses in the lockdown period. This would certainly cause some movements on the streets," Justice Varale observed.

"One also fails to understand the logic behind the situation, wherein the newspapers are permitted to be printed and published by the media houses, but they are not permitted to be distributed door-to-door and there is only a restricted distribution," Justice Varale further observed.

As far as the contention that e-papers of all newspapers are available, Justice Varale said, "It is common knowledge that though majority of the newspapers are available by way of e-paper, it is not possible for majority of the citizens to have access to e-paper as they may not be conversant with the technology or are used to reading of hard copy of a newspaper." The bench has accordingly posted the matter for further hearing till April 27.

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