Government defends Gujarat ban on riot exposé, TV channel


New Delhi : The centre Wednesday defended the Gujarat government’s ban on an exposé of the horrific communal riots of 2002 as also a bar on a private TV channel that had been operating surreptitiously.

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“The collector of Ahmedabad was acting under a law passed by parliament in banning the telecast of the Tehelka exposé,” Information and Broadcasting Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi said during question hour in the Rajya Sabha.

As for the ban on the Vande Gujarat channel that had also been telecasting extensive footage on the riots, he said it had been yanked off because it had obtained a licence on the sly from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) without the permission of his ministry.

This prompted immediate protests from Left and Samajwadi Party members, who accused the central government of conspiring with the Gujarat government to ensure that the “truth can’t be presented”.

The minister, however, stood his ground, saying he was “ready to respond to any question on the issue”.

“The collector of Ahmedabad banned the Tehelka exposé by acting under the Cable Network Regulation Act that has been passed by this house. The act gives a collector the power to ban a channel if he feels communal harmony is threatened,” Dasmunsi maintained.

“Every collector in Gujarat and the rest of the country had the power (to enforce the ban). No other collector showed the wisdom and the power to exercise the power except the Ahmedabad collector,” he added.

“After a careful study, I have found that the Ahmedabad collector did the right thing. Maybe there was an agenda (in telecasting) the exposé to create communal disharmony,” he added.

Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) members Brinda Karat and Sitaram Yechury vociferously protested this, saying the boot was on the other foot.

“What the minister is saying is that the truth can’t be presented. There is a conspiracy (to prevent the truth from coming out),” Karat said.

Dasmunsi was immediately on his feet, saying: “There is no substance to the charge.”

According to Yechury, the ban on the Tehelka sting and on Vande Gujarat “opens you (the government) to the conspiracy charge”.

Dasmunsi was unfazed, saying there was a “deep rooted plan (behind the Tehelka exposé and the Vande Gujarat channel) that will be known to the house shortly”.

“The Gujarat riots were a shameful act not only for Gujarat but for the whole nation. We have condemned it time and again. We are second to none in preventing communalism,” the minister maintained.

As for the ban on the Vande Gujarat channel, Dasmunsi said he was examining the circumstances under which it had obtained a DoT licence.

“After the channel was banned, some of journalists came to me to complain. I asked for a complaint in writing but have yet to receive this,” the minister stated.