SC orders limited release of newsprint to Jang Group

By our correspondent

ISLAMABAD: In a contempt of court petition filed by Jang Group against the government for not complying with the apex court's order to release 1,094 reels of newsprint, the Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the government to release 200 reels of the newsprint, which may not be detained on account of non-payment of any dues.

While giving interim relief so that the petitioner, Editor-in-Chief of the Jang Group of newspapers, may publish any of the group's newspapers/publications, the apex court directed Collector of Customs (Appraisement), Customs House, Karachi "to release 200 reels of newsprint out of 1,094 reels as mentioned in our order dated 1.2.1999 as the dues, charges etc. payable on the said reels have been reportedly paid and cleared."

Disposing of the petition of the Jang Group, the 3-member bench headed by Justice Khalil-ur-Rehman and comprising Justice Sh Ijaz Nisar and Justice Mohammad Arif also ordered that "these 200 reels of newsprint may not be detained on account of non-payment of any dues, taxes and charges even if found payable in respect of any other consignment/matter."

Mr Abid Hasan Minto, counsel for the Jang Group, moved the contempt of court petition under the original jurisdiction in the court against Central Board of Revenue (CBR) and Officer of Collector of Customs Appraisement (Karachi) for flouting February 1 order of the court to release 1,094 reels of newsprint.

The petitioner sought specific injunctions from the court that the CBR and Collector of Customs "be called upon to show cause why proceedings for the contempt of the court should not be initiated against them; and be directed to comply with the order of the court dated 1-2-99 and release 1,094 reels of newsprint forthwith." It was also prayed that the respondent be restrained from taking any action to obstruct the normal operation of the petitioner, publishers during the pendency of the main case.

Following brief arguments put forward by Mr Minto who pleaded that if newsprint was not released the Jang Group would face a serious situation wherein it would not be able to publish its newspapers, the court directed the respondent to release 200 reels.

In fact, Minto requested the court to order release of all the 1,094 reels which the Customs authorities had detained in Karachi. "It's a deliberate attempt to force the petitioner not to publish the newspaper," he argued. If newsprint is not released, said the counsel for Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman, the newspaper may not appear on Thursday.

Justice Khalil-ur-Rehman, said that he was issuing notices to the respondents to appear on February 9, 1999 along with the Jang Group's constitutional petition for freedom of press. To a query from Justice Nisar, Minto informed the court that if newsprint was not released, the newspapers of Jang Group of Publications would not be published on Thursday on account of non-availability of newsprint.

Justice Khalil-ur-Rehman, however, said that he had to issue notices in a contempt matter. "Its a composite application, and we want that the February 1 order of this hounourable court should be complied with." Advocate Minto pressed for release of newsprint, as there were clear orders from the court to release 1,094 reels. "It's just a matter of implementing the order of this court."

Considering the request on its merit, Justice Rehman enquired about the newsprint requirement for three days. He also asked questions about daily consumption and availability of newsprint. At first, he agreed to a requirement of 500 reels of newsprint for next 6 days, but the same was later reduced to only 200 reels till February 9 when the main petition will be taken up for hearing.

The calculations were made after the court was informed about daily use of newsprint based on at least 4 pages each for Jang and The News. "By reducing the number of pages we are losing business, while other newspapers have 12 and more pages."

Justice Khalil, on the basis that 10 reels each for three centres would be enough for a 4-page Jang and The News, ordered to release only 200 reels for the next six days. Minto also requested the court to issue specific orders so that reels should not be seized. Despite repeated appeals, the court remained firm on its decision of directing the concerned authorities to release only 200 reels of newsprint.

For special arrangements to ensure implementation of the interim order, the apex court directed that "the registrar of this court shall take appropriate steps to communicate this order to the concerned authorities and shall see that 200 reels of newsprint are released to the petitioner forthwith."

The copy of the criminal original petition, said the order, be forwarded to the respondent as well as to the Collector of Customs (Appraisement), Customs House, Karachi for report and para-wise comments so as to reach this court before 9th instant.

The order says: "Learned counsel for the petitioner submits that the stock of newsprint available with the petitioner/companies has completely exhausted and some reels of newsprint have also been seized while these were being removed from the godowns to the press in purported exercise of powers vested under the tax laws.

"He adds that if the order of this court dated 1-2-1999 directing release of 1,094 reels of newsprint is not complied with, as the same has not been complied with till date, the petitioner will not be in a position to publish any of its newspapers/publications. He prayed that reasonable quantity of newsprint may be directed to be released so that the newspaper could be brought out until the next date of hearing in the main petition."

Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman had moved a petition on Monday last, raising issues of public importance relating to fundamental rights guaranteeing freedom of speech and expression, press freedom as well as other fundamental rights guaranteed under various Articles of the constitution and the principles of policy enshrined in the Constitution. This petition is fixed for February 9 for proper hearing as notices to the attorney general have also been issued.

The News International Pakistan