Chhattisgarh’s draft journalist protection law

Chhattisgarh’s draft journalist protection law

The committee headed by Justice Aftab Alam, a retired Supreme Court Judge, has prepared a draft of the Chhattisgarh Protection of Media persons Act that has now been made public for suggestions.

The committee includes Justice Aftab Alam, Justice Anjana Prakash, a retired judge of the Patna High Court, senior Supreme Court advocate Rajuram Chandran, Advocate General of Chhattisgarh High Court, DGP, Principal Secretary (Law Department), Chief Minister’s Media Advisor Ruchir Garg, Dainik Deshbandhu Chief Editor Lalit Surjan and Nagpur-based senior journalist Prakash Dubey as members.

In Chhattisgarh, especially in Bastar, journalists have often claimed to have been targeted by the government machinery, intimated, harassed and unlawfully arrested. For the last few years, local journalists have rallied around the demand for a journalist protection law.

The draft envisages a “Register of Mediapersons” for which an “Authority for the Registration of Mediapersons” will be set up, including senior journalists and officials of the Department of Public Relations.

The draft suggests the creation of a Committee for Protection of Mediapersons within 30 days of the Act coming into force. It is in the ambit of this committee to “deal with complaints of harassment, intimidation or violence, or unfair prosecution and arrests of mediapersons”. According to the draft, the committee will include a police officer not below the rank of the Additional DGP, Head of the Department of Public Relations, three mediapersons “of at least 12 years’ standing, at least one of whom shall be a woman, who qualify to be registered under this Act”.

Under the committee, “risk management units” will be set up at the district level comprising the District Collector, district DPR officer, SP and two mediapersons from the district, at least one of whom will be a woman. The draft makes it a duty of each member of risk management units to immediately inform the Collector or SP about any “complaint or information of threat of harassment, intimation or violence to persons in need of protection”, according to the draft. The SP or District Collector will have to immediately institute emergency protection measures and convene the risk management unit, it says.

The draft states that the committee and the risk management unit may call for further information from the source of the complaint or from other sources to assess the level of risk and the appropriate response. It states that the risk management unit shall formulate a protection plan to safeguard such persons if it considers the need for protection measures.

The draft also says that public servants who “wilfully neglect duties” under the Act could be given a jail term upto one year. “Offences under this Act shall be investigated by a police officer not below the rank of a Deputy Superintendent of Police. Offences under this Act shall be cognizable and bailable”, the draft states.