The history of Amrita Bazar Patrika and Jugantar is a thrilling study and once you go through it, a feeling of resurgent patriotism would grip you. During the freedom movement in India, newspapers played a great and significant role in arousing the sentiments about motherland, which was under British rule and in motivating people against their misrule. In this context, the role played by Amrita Bazar Patrika group was so prominent that the national leaders were depending on it for correct information and for getting genuine inspiration. The editor of Amrita Bazar Patrika, Sisir Kumar Ghose was a man of strong principle. Several years ago, Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak wrote about Sisir Kumar Ghose which I quote: ?I had learnt many lessons sitting at his feet. I revered him as my father and I venture again to say that he, in return, loved me as his son?.?
Most unfortunately, this great newspaper was closed in the year 1996 for huge debt in the market and for labour movement. That modernisation was not done in proper time, was another reason for which they were miserably discredited and discarded by general readers. There were efforts made by both central and state governments. But this newspaper could not be revived. When P.V. Narasimha Rao was Prime Minister, he took special initiative to run this traditionally renowned newspaper and formed a consortium of banks with six nationalised banks to provide them with funds. But the sorry part of the story was, they also failed in their mission. Ultimately they had to take a hard decision to sell out the properties held by Amrita Bazar Patrika group and pay off the employees? debts and sundry other debtors including the banks. To this date all properties have been sold barring two properties in Allahabad and one flat in Mumbai. It means the death of Amrita Bazar Patrika has already taken place. Now the preparation for its funeral is going on. Before giving its detail account, let me recall certain historical facts about Amrita Bazar Patrika for which it became so famous and people still remember its role with reverence.
Amrita Bazar Patrika was a bilingual weekly (in Bengali and English) started on January 17, 1868. It started its journey from a village called Palua-Magura under the district of Jessore, now in Bangladesh. Ghose brothers who started this weekly changed the name of the village as Amrita Bazar to perpetuate the memory of their mother Amritamoyee Devi.
Sisir Kumar Ghose, the founder editor of Amrita Bazar Patrika, always believed in the policy of ?survival of the fittest?. Apprehending ill motive and stringent action by the government under Vernacular Press Act he made its editor to convert it into a full-fledged English weekly with effect from March 21, 1878? the second week of operation of the Act. The Patrika became a daily on February 19, 1891. Its security deposit with the government was forfeited in 1919 for writing two editorials (i) ?To whom does India belong?? (April 19) and (ii) ?Arrest of Mr. Gandhi: More outrages? (April 12). On May 15 of the same year the government of Sir Michael O?Dwyer banned the entry of the Patrika into the province of Punjab. The paper under the stewardship of Tushar Kanti Ghose since the thirties enlarged its circulation and income and put it in the rank of big newspapers of the country. Since 1937, it has a sister Bengali daily Jugantar.
It was already mentioned that this great newspaper died an unnatural death in 1996. But the dead body was kept in the cupboard of the morgue because funeral could not take place for want of money. Now when money is ready to clear the dues of banks, employees and other debtors, a peculiar hurdle has cropped up in the way and everything has been stalled. The consortium of banks has taken back their dues. But when Regional Provident Fund office was approached for repaying their dues, they charged damages and penal interests on Amrita Bazar group which came to about Rs. 9.5 crore. The amount earmarked for paying off these dues is Rs. 26 crore and actual amount due is Rs. 25.5 crore. But adding up Rs. 9.5 crore as penalty would make the amount due to Rs. 35 crore. Both from company'sside and from employees? side, the Chairman of the Central Board of Trustees of Provident Fund was approached for waiving this amount so that the dues of the employees and other debtors could be paid immediately. Central Labour Minister Oscar Fernandez is the ex-officio chairman of the board. On behalf of the Patrika, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee had personally requested the Labour Minister to consider sympathetically. For the time being, all the parties concerned have pinned their hope on the sympathetic decision of the Labour Ministry.
Since 1996 it was thought that if the Patrika has to be revived and debts have to be cleared, properties have to be sold out. Except this, there was no ray of light at the end of the tunnel. Hence a comprehensive Sale Committee was constituted where almost all parties concerned were accommodated. At long last all the properties of Amrita Bazar Patrika Group have been sold out except two properties in Allahabad valued at approximately Rs. 15 to 16 crore and one flat in Mumbai valued at Rs. 3 to 4 crore (approx). The total money received on this sale account is around Rs. 57 crore. Before selling these properties, it was agreed upon that 40 per cent of the sale proceed will go to banks to pay off their debts, another 40 per cent will go to pay employees? debts with a ceiling of Rs. 15 crore and the rest 20 per cent will go to the proprietors of the company.
From the employees? side it has been found that Rs. 15 crore (this amount has been allocated to pay off their dues) will be insufficient to fully pay their debts which has been calculated at Rs. 25.5 crore. But there will be another Rs. 6 crore to be added up with Rs. 15 crore because Amrita Bazar Patrika group used to maintain an independent P.F. Trust Account with the permission of the P.F. authority and in that account above mentioned amount was lying idle. So it was added up to the employees? share. Then the proprietors were persuaded to contribute an amount of Rs. 5 crore which they immediately agreed. This made the total amount at Rs. 26 crore which means even after paying off the employees? debt there will be a surplus fund of Rs. 50 lakh.
In this connection it should be mentioned that a nasty game is being played by the shareholders and directors of the Amrita Bazar Patrika. Even among them two High Court cases are going on. The allegation is that one of the directors is engaged in forward selling of the property. These people have no sentiment for the great newspaper Amrita Bazar Patrika. They are after swallowing funds by hook or by crook. Hence revival of this traditionally famous Amrita Bazar Patrika is a remote possibility. But for Jugantar, the Bengali version of the Patrika, the revival is a definite possibility as the Ghose family is holding hundred per cent share of this company (Patrika & Jugantar are two separate companies. For Amrita Bazar Patrika Limited, there are many shareholders outside the Ghose family.) it has expressed its strong willingness to start the Jugantar anew. Let us hope that this happens.