Kolkata, Mar 28: Stoking a controversy, West Bengal government has banned English and mass-circulation Bengali dailies at state-sponsored and aided libraries in the state which will make available only eight selected newspapers.
The order by the Mamata Banerjee government in an official circular evoked criticism today from Trinamool ally Congress, Left parties and also the intelligentsia which said the decision was "undemocratic, undesirable and worse than censorship." A demand was also made to withdraw the circular.
The state government however defended the decision and ruled out withdrawing the circular specifying purchase of the eight dailies for the libraries. The government also said that the order had been issued in accordance with its policy.
"The circular is okay.. The circular has been issued in accordance with government policy," said the state's Libraries Affairs minister Abdul Karim Chowdhury, after a 45-minute meeting with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
Under the order issued by the department of mass education extension and library services, purchase of newspapers/dailies by the public libraries shall be restricted to Sangbad Pratidin, Sakalbela, Khabar 365 din, Ekdin, Dainik Statesman (all Bengali), Sanmarg (Hindi) and Akhbar-E-Mashriq and Azad Hind (both Urdu dailies).
English dailies or large circulation Bengali ones will no longer be available in state-sponsored and aided libraries in West Bengal as per the order which was issued in "public interest".
The circular also said that no government fund will be spent for purchase of any newspaper or daily published or purported to be published by any political party in any public library in the state.
"It is felt that the eight newspapers/dailies will, besides promoting language, particularly among the rural masses, significantly contribute to the development and spread of free thinking among the members," it said. The only banned newspaper that is published by a political party is Ganashakti, which is a CPM mouthpiece.
CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury said the order is "worse than censorship" and has shades of "fascism".
Congress MLA Asit Mitra said the government decision would only hurt the very basis of democratic institutions and it is an "undemocratic decision."
Asked what he discussed with the chief minister, Minister Chowdhury said that the discussion centred around various issues relating to libraries department.
To a question if he would withdraw the circular in view of sharp criticism from various quarters, Chowdhury quipped "Why ?".
Criticising the circular, CPI(M) leader and leader of the opposition Suryakanta Mishra said "the Trinamool Congress-led government has been seriously trying to shake all the bases of democratic institutions."
WBPCC President Pradip Bhattacharya said the move was unnecessary and the libraries should be given liberty to choose what dailies they would purchase for their readers without waiting for any government control.
Eminent writer Sunil Gangopadhyay observed that the government should not meddle in all matters and the move amounted to "gross interference in privacy of readers."
"It is not desirable that the government will determine which dailies the readers will prefer in libraries," he said.
Novelist Suchitra Bhattacharya said the government move was nothing but interference in the liberty of the libraries to purchase dailies for their readers.
Noted writer Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay said that the government should reconsider the decision.