The Press Council of India(PCI) and the Government were at loggerheads over the issue of the media body's powers after it decided to serve a bailable arrest warrant against Union I and B Ministry Secretary Sunil Arora for failing to appear before it following summons.
Information and Broadcasting Ministry sources said today that the PCI has "limited powers" and cannot decide everything unlike the judiciary, which is an independent institution recognised by the Constitution, days after the Council took a decision to issue the arrest warrant.
PCI Chairman Justice(retd) C K Prasad, however, said that the Council was of the "prima facie" view that it does have the powers to issue such a warrant.
At the same time, he said the Council is willing to listen to I and B Ministry's contention in this regard.
The unanimous decision to secure Arora's attendance before the Council at its next scheduled meeting here on April 22 was taken by its members at their meeting on April 11 under the Chairmanship of Prasad.
The PCI on March 17 had decided to institute a suo motu inquiry into the "continued apathy" of the I and B Ministry towards the activities of the Council particularly at its efforts to preserve the freedom of the press and its mandate under the Press Council Act and directed its Secretary to appear before it on April 11. Arora is due to retire on April 30.
Prasad said the ministry had in its initial response questioned the Council's powers but in another communication on Wednesday said the I and B Secretary would come.
A request was also made to the Council to consider a change in the date for the Secretary's appearance.
Regarding the request, Prasad said a decision would be taken after seeking views of all the Council members amid suggestions by a few that the direction for issuing the warrant be kept in abeyance.
Prasad on Wednesday said the Council received a communication from the ministry on that day in which it was said the Secretary was not present here to receive the notices as he was out of the country and that he would appear before it.
I and B Ministry sources said that under the Press Council Act, the Council has been given powers to summon attendance of persons and examine them on oath, only for two purposes -- for carrying out its functions and for holding an enquiry.
The financial and legislative proposals of PCI are examined in the Ministry and legislature respectively, the sources said.
The sources also said that the proposals of PCI for enhancement of their powers and expansion of their mandate required wide consultations with all the concerned stakeholders before firming up the legislative proposal for amendment in the Press Council Act, 1978.
The sources said that it is also important to note that under section 25 of Press Council Act, the power to make rules for enhancement of allowance of fees to the members of PCI lies with the Central Government.
The sources said the recommendation from PCI for enhancement of levy fee to be collected from newspapers is already under government's consideration.
The PCI through a resolution passed at its meeting held on March 17 had decided to summon Arora on April 11 to explain the government's position on powers to the Council, proposals to make it self-sufficient like enhancing the levy fee and enhancing sitting fee of non-official members to Rs 4,000 from the current Rs 1,000 to enable them to "fulfil their mandate" effectively.
A PCI member said since Arora did not turn up on April 11, the members present unanimously brought out a resolution that a bailable warrant may be issued and the authorities concerned be informed.
The Council has addressed several communications to the I and B Ministry on various issues concerning the functioning of the Council but received no satisfactory response, several PCI members said.
Prasad said several issues had to be discussed and the Council had issued notices to the Secretary on this matter as is the practice.
He said there were several matters concerning the powers of the Council, the autonomy and the sitting fee to the executive members which required redressal.
Prasad said that to reduce the Council’s dependency on the government it had proposed increasing the levy fee on newspapers. The levy fee is paid by newspapers depending on their size and circulation to avail themselves of the services of the Council.