Taking media houses to task for abruptly and illegally terminating services of mediapersons by resorting to intimidating tactics, Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court on Tuesday sought to know as to on what grounds the services of journalists were terminated.
The tough query made by the High Court put counsels representing media houses in a fix and having caught on a wrong foot, the media houses maintained an eerie silence. Removing frontline corona warriors in such disgraceful manner is unethical and immoral, the petitioners claimed while demanding balance sheets of media houses to ascertain the loss claimed by media houses.
The High Court while hearing a petition jointly filed by Maharashtra Union of Working Journalists and Nagpur Union of Working Journalists vehemently opposing salary cuts, illegal sacking and intimidating tactics adopted by newspaper establishments to change the service conditions of mediapersons, asked media houses to come clean and file reply within two weeks.
Adv Shreerang Bhandarkar appearing for the aggrieved journalists launched a blistering attack against media houses and accused them of adopting illegal means using covid-19 pandemic as a pretext to reduce salaries and retrench journalists. Some of the media houses questioned the maintainability of the petition citing availability of alternate remedy before the industrial court, only to invite a very sharp rebuke from the petitioners charging them with duplicity and pointing out complete illegal and unethical mode in which large scale retrenchment were resorted. Some media houses refuted the allegation and sought time to file reply.
Adv Bhandarkar claimed that during covid-19 pandemic, the mediapersons worked day in and day out as frontline corona warriors only to get rude shock from the newspaper managements blaming them for ignoring the appeal made by Prime MInister to protect the interests of employees and mandatory guidelines issued by Ministry of Home Affairs, Labour Department and Chief Secretary.
The newspaper management citing losses, hurriedly removed hundreds of employees in totally illegal manner and also resorted to heavy salary cuts thereby violating all statutory provisions and guidelines issued by Centre and State, the petitioners stated while urging the High Court to immediately restrain the managements from continuing with their nefarious agenda of removing journalists from their jobs and reducing their salary to make them totally subservient thereby hampering the freedom of speech and expression.
Adv Bhandarkar urged a division bench consisting of Justice Ravi Deshpande and Justice Amit Borkar to restrain the media houses from reducing salaries and undertaking job cuts during the pendency of the petition.
The petitioners MUWJ through its organising secretary Vishwas Balwant Indurkar and NUWJ through its president Shirish Borkar had joined Union Of India through cabinet secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, State of Maharashtra through its Chief Secretary, Principal Secretary of Labour Department, Home Secretary, Indian Newspaper Society, Vidarbha Daily Newspaper Association, managements of Lokmat, Times of India and Maharashtra Times, Sakal, Deshonnati, Nav Bharat, Dainik Bhaskar, Indian Express and Loksatta, as party respondents.
The petition has narrated in detail the arbitrary salary cuts imposed by respondent newspaper managements following covid-19 pandemic and wondered as to why newspaper employees and particularly journalists have been made scapegoats. The petitioner association also pointed out the statutory framework including Working Journalists Act and Majithia Wage board endorsed by the Supreme Court and how the newspaper managements always strived to scuttle these welfare legislation providing some succour to journalists who constantly work under stress and pressure.
The petitioners have urged the High Court to direct the authorities to restrain the newspaper managements from committing such brazen illegality and protect the journalists from the tyranny of the managements who are using covid-19 pandemic as a ploy to get rid of protected employees and salary framework guaranteed by law and endorsed by the Supreme Court.
Adv Shreerang Bhandarkar and Adv Maneesh Shukla appeared for the MUWJ and NUWJ. Assistant Solicitor General of India Ulhas Aurangabadkar (Union Government), GP Sumant Deopujari (State), Adv R M Bhangde (Lokmat), Senior Adv Anil Mardikar (ToI) represented the respondents.