After the Tribune announced the closure of its Jammu and Kashmir edition, the deputy commissioner of the Srinagar sent a letter to the Tribune Trust, saying the newspaper could not be allowed to shut its Kashmir edition.
The trust, which runs the newspaper, had sent a letter to the Srinagar labour department in September saying the edition was being closed down due to financial distress. At least 23 employees received termination letters on September 30.
Subsequently, Shahid Iqbal Choudhary, who also serves the chairman of the district disaster management authority, sent a letter reminding the Tribune Trust that the Disaster Management Act was in force and that the central government had advised organisations to avoid layoffs, reduction of wages, and forced leaves for employees.
“The office of deputy commissioner would like to remind you that under Section 16A of the Working Journalists and other Newspaper Employees Conditions of Service and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1955, no employer in relation to the newspaper establishment shall by reason of his liability for payment of wages dismisses, discharge or retrench any newspaper employee,” the letter said.
So, the letter concluded, the closing down of Tribune’s publishing and printing unit in Srinagar district wasn't allowed. It warned the trust that violation of these orders would invite action under the Disaster Management Act.
The contents of the letter were confirmed by Irtiza Jeelani, the district disaster management officer, who spoke to this reporter on behalf of Choudhary. Jeelani said the district disaster management authority was fully empowered to regulate the guidelines issued by the central government.
Instructed by Chaudhary, she said, "I wrote a letter to the Tribune Trust that we couldn't allow it to close down the edition in wake of the letters from the ministry of home affairs and the labour department.” Told that the edition had already closed down, she said the newspaper was liable for action.
“I got to know that the head of the Tribune is trying to negotiate with the authorities," she said. "Let’s see what comes out of it or then we can start legal proceedings."
The Tribune’s assistant general manager Amit Sharma refused to speak on the matter, merely saying he had not received any letter from the Srinagar administration.
Meanwhile, one of the retrenched reporters said Chaudhary’s letter vindicated their position that their terminations were illegal. “We are hopeful that the Tribune Trust will reinstate us as their move to close the edition has turned out to be in contravention of the prevailing laws,” the former employee said. "We will give fresh representation to Srinagar DC as well as Tribune Trust. In case there is no action, we will be forced to take the legal route and challenge our retrenchment in the high court.”
The Tribune Trust Employees’ Union has already approached a labour court in Chandigarh against the newspaper’s decision in April to deduct salaries during the pandemic.
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