On July 7, a district court in Delhi ruled in favour of journalist Hartosh Singh Bal after his five-year long legal battle with Open magazine over his termination. In November 2013, then political editor, Bal was served a notice of termination by the magazine.
Bal had then joined Twitter and made the affair public, stating: “Received termination notice from Open today after I refused Rs 15 lakh to move on quietly.” He also appended a link to the last story he had written, a polemic on Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi titled “The Hero and the Prince”.
In 2013, Bal had stated that Open’s management had provided no reasons for the termination of his services.
“If the journalist’s employment is to be terminated, the least that should have been done is that he should have been given a reason. The reason would require fact. I think this is the minimum protection a journalist needs because dismissal of journalist cannot be arbitrary,” Bal had told The Hoot.
In court, the magazine had pointed to a clause in the Contract of Employment signed in 2008 and argued that “there was no need on the part of the management to assign any reason for the purpose of terminating the services” of Bal.
In its verdict, the court rebutted this position and stated that since Bal had been promoted and given an appraisal in 2011 “on account of his good performance”, the 2008 contract had ceased to operate in 2011. The court therefore accepted Bal’s assertion that his “services have been terminated illegally and unjustifiably without following the due provisions of laws…”
In his petition, among other things, Bal had demanded a statutory payment for a six months-long notice period that amounted to Rs 14.5 lacs under the provisions of Working Journalists and other Newspaper Employees (Conditions of Service) and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1955.
Open had claimed in court that Bal did not legally fit into the definition of “working journalist” under the above Act because he was merely accorded a supervisory role as an editor. The court ruled in Bal’s favour in this respect.
In its judgement, the court awarded Bal six months notice pay on account of termination of services under the stipulations of the Working Journalists Act, 1955. It also awarded him Rs 10 lakh “on account of harassment meted out to him by the management in not following the due procedure of law.”
In series a tweets, Bal wrote that the judgement “goes on to establish the fact that the contract system can be challenged, it requires perseverance, support & time”. He thanked his lawyer Raghav Awasthi, who “stepped in & fought the case brilliantly, pro bono, at a time i would’ve been unable to sustain legal costs”.
He added that the Working Journalists Act should be extended to television and digital media, and that “firing cannot be arbitrary, it requires norms, procedures, journalists need safeguards against management.”
Bal had joined Open as Political Editor in June 2008. He is currently the Political Editor at The Caravan. You can read the judgement below.