Kolkata: The West Bengal government's decision to ban all dailies except eight Bengali newspapers in state-funded libraries to promote "free thinking" among readers has drawn widespread flak including from those who once backed Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
"The order is totally against democracy and the rule of law. Now the government will decide what one should read and what not... dailies, which are well known and have high circulation are off the list," complained educationist Sunando Sanyal.
Sanya was once close to Banerjee and headed the West Bengal Syllabus Committee for a few months after she took power last year.
Sanyal, who also staunchly supported Banerjee in her fight against the Left Front regime, said the government was fast losing people's trust.
Among the newspapers barred from the libraries are the mass circulated Ananda Bazar Patrika as well as Bartamaan and Aajkaal, and leading English papers Telegraph, Times of India, Statesman and Hindustan Times.
In fact, no English daily figures in the list of permitted newspapers.
"In public interest, the government will not buy newspapers published or purported to be published by any political party either national or regional as a measure to develop free thinking among the readers," reads the March 14 order issued by the department of mass education extension and library services.
The circular says only eight newspapers will be available in the libraries -- five Bengali, one Hindi and two Urdu dailies.
The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) called the order an "unpardonable offence". The Left Front protested in the assembly against the order.
The Congress also came down heavily on the decision.
"The government cannot decide what the people will read and what not. It is an intrusion on the freedom of reading," said Pradip Bhattacharya, the state Congress president.
Civil rights activist Sujato Bhadra also criticised the move.
The order seeking to promote "free reading" has on the list a Bengali newspaper owned by the family of a Rajya Sabha lawmaker from the Trinamool Congress.
Its associate editor was recently elected to the Rajya Sabha on Trinamool ticket.
Also on the list are a Hindi and an Urdu newspaper whose managing director and a senior journalist respectively have also been elected to the Rajya Sabha as Trinamool Congress members.
Trinamool Congress MP Kabir Suman, a Banerjee baiter, said: "The government wants to show how much power it can wield. It wants to prove it can do whatever it wants to."