Mumbai: The biggest impact of coronavirus has been on newspapers. However much the electronic media grows, it can never replace print newspapers. Be it war or storm, newspapers have never stopped coming out. However, the fear of corona in a city like Mumbai has caused newspapers to cease publication and distribution. Even an aggressive and inflammatory paper like Saamna has been unable to publish so far.
However, after eight to 10 days of forced shutdown, some newspapers have begun to emerge. They are publishing limited copies but are unable to distribute. Newspaper stalls are closed. Due to the lockdown, offices and factories are closed, so who will buy these papers? This morning's newspaper is this evening's ‘raddi’ (scrap), in normal times.
Now, with this corona scare, papers are turning into ‘raddi’ as soon as they are published. This picture needs to change. There is a big chain of newspaper distributors. From the dock at Colaba to the tea vendor in Matheran, Pune, Nashik, Sambhaji Nagar, Nagpur City to the district and village level, newspaper distribution is dependent on the youngsters who deliver it to the doorstep of subscribers.
These boys are afraid of contracting coronavirus. Furthermore, many housing societies, areas and colonies have ‘self-quarantined’, not allowing even a fly to enter their premises. Even the newspaper boy's entry is obstructed. One doesn’t know how much the country needs the publication of newspapers, but their publishing is definitely a societal need.
Of course, publishing newspapers is now a business and no longer a mission. However, just because it is a business, it doesn’t allow us to take the lives of the very boys who deliver it to us. Should we endanger their lives to fulfil our desire?
As CM Uddhav Thackeray rightly says, ‘A head that survives the battle will have many hats to wear another day.’ Who has given us the right to only secure our lives while we endanger the lives of the delivery boys? Since newspapers are included in essential services, they ought to be distributed is what some people are saying, quoting legal luminaries.
Just like corona doesn't discriminate between gods and religion, it doesn't discriminate between essential and non-essential service providers. Doctors, police and the Army are all essential service providers and, at this time, many of them have become infected in the line of duty.
Hence, these luminaries should keep their counsel to themselves. So, one needs to know, under what Act are legal pundits advising that newspapers should be printed and distributed? The Central government, while announcing the 21-day lockdown, included print and electronic media among essential services.
As per Article 516 of the ‘Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA), 1981, those who obstruct newspaper distribution can be arrested without a warrant and will have to serve a sentence of one year, is the valuable input proffered by legal pundits.
Then why are these legal pundits sitting in their ivory towers, with masks on their faces? They should understand that nobody has obstructed newspapers. This is not even what is called gagging of newspapers or press freedom.
We must give it some time before the distribution system comes back to normal. We are against the policy of 'Let us live and others may die'. Playing with the lives of others is a crime. Police and doctors are fighting corona. Their services are essential, as is that of newspapers.
The only difference is that if the doctors and the police are infected with corona, their families are going to get Rs 50 lakh. Will it be the same in the case of poor boys who die of corona which they contracted while distributing newspapers? Will their families also get Rs 50 lakh, we want to know from these legal pundits.
Many a time, these are children from poor families, who drop off newspapers at our doorstep in the morning before going to school. They get a few hundreds of rupees for their toil. Now, must these kids embrace death for this pittance? Ratan Tata needs to be congratulated. He has made available rooms in the Taj to doctors on duty.
Is anyone going to extend the same facility to those who provide the essential service of distributing newspapers? PM Modi has indicated the battle with corona will be long and hard. News - papers too are involved in this battle. From the time of our freedom struggle to the 2004 tsunami, newspapers have always been in the thick of the battle.
Hence, those armed with the pen are not afraid of corona. But despite theirs being an essential service, it is also one of the most neglected ones. Journalists in newspapers and the distributors are also human beings. The country is being praised for halting in its tracks.
Those advising that staying at home is what will make you secure are the very ones saying the newspaper fraternity should step out or face wrath of the law. Bah, humbug! We need to ‘fight’ or do a ‘Saamna’ with these tendencies.
Life is very dull, as ‘Saamna’ is not on the roads but it is coming out and will have to continue doing so. What we will not do, however, is to run the business by risking the lives of our boys. We are, however, sure when Saamna hits the stands, there won’t be any hindrances remaining!