Monday, April 19, 2010

The major Press Laws enacted during the British period? Write in detail about the 1867 Press and Registration of Books Act and the Vernacular Press Act.

The major laws during the British period:

Tipu Sultan was a friend of the French. The Marathas had won the war against the Nizam. Thus the British tried to maintain a strict control over the Press. Thus came the earliest regulatory measures in 1799 when Lord Wellesley promulgated the Press Regulations, which imposed press censorship on an infant newspaper publishing industry. What was followed was a set of laws one after another with a single objective, “To suppress and control the Press”. A summary:

The British colonial rule: Press Laws and Regulations (1799-1947)

1. First Censorship Law (1799)

2. Censorship Law Modifications (1813)

3. Censorship Law Modifications (1813)

4. Regulations for Registration (1823)

5. Metcalfe’s Act of 1835 (Registration of the Press Act)

6. New Regulations on Printing Presses (1857)

7. Indian Penal Code (1860)

8. Press and Registration Act 1867

9. Vernacular Press Act (1878)

10. Criminal Procedure Code (1898)

11. Newspapers (Incitement to Offences) Act (1908)

12. Indian Press Act (1910)

13. Official Secrets Act (1923)

14. Indian Press (Emergency Power) (1931)

A recap of the major laws from the above ones:

The1835 Press Act undid most of the repressive features of earlier legislations on the subject. On 18th June 1857, the government passed the ‘Gagging Act’, which among various other things re-introduced the pre 1835 situation. It introduced compulsory licensing for the owning or running of printing presses; empowered the government to prohibit the publication or circulation of any newspaper, book or other printed material and banned the publication or dissemination of statements or news stories which had a tendency to cause a furor against the government, thereby weakening its authority. The 1860 Indian Penal Code (IPC) gave the government powers to search and forfeit publications which violated Sections like 124A, 153A or 295A.

Next came the ‘Press and Registration of Books Act’ in 1867 which continues to remain in force till date. After the criticism of Lord Lytton’s role in the second Afghan War by the Indian Press, Governor General Lord Lytton promulgated the ‘Vernacular Press Act’ of 1878 allowing the government to clamp down on the publication of vernacular language writings deemed seditious and to impose punitive sanctions on printers and publishers who failed to fall in line.

One of the last major Press Law of the British rule came in 1908 when Lord Minto promulgated the ‘Newspapers (Incitement to Offences) Act, 1908. It authorized local authorities to take action against the editor of any newspaper that published matter deemed to constitute an incitement to rebellion.

But the most stringent law came in 1923in the form of the Official Secrets Act (OSA). This prohibited the publication of classified official information. Lots of information vital to the public was withheld from the press in the name of OSA till recently until the RTI was passed.

Press & Registration of Books Act 1867:

During the rein of the British Government in India writing of books and other informatory material took a concrete shape and with the advent of printing presses various books on almost all the subjects and periodicals touching every aspect of life started appearing. Thrust on education gave an impetus to this with the result that lot of printed material became available.

Those in the field of writing, publishing and printing gave a thought to organize a system for keeping a record of the publications. The then East India Company was urged to keep a record of the publications. An attempt was made by the authorities to make a collection of the books and other publications emanating from the various printing presses throughout India.

Board of Directors of East India Company issued an instruction that copies of every important and interesting work published in India should be dispatched to England to be deposited in the library of India House. Such an instruction had a slow impact.

A system of voluntary registrations of publications was evolved but it failed. It was found necessary to establish a system of compulsory sale to Government, of three copies of each work in India.

So was brought the Act, the oldest to survive: Press and Registration of Books Act (PRB), 1867.


Since 1867 PRB Act remained the fundamental law governing the rules for the regulation of the publication of newspapers and of having printing presses. Though no license or permission is required for starting and running a newspaper, no paper can be published without complying with the provision of this act. Two conditions are necessary to be fulfilled for publishing a newspaper:

One, the name of the printer, the place of printing and the name of the publisher and place of publication must be legibly printed on every book or newspaper printed/published within India.

Two, a declaration must be made before the district, Presidency or Sub-divisional Magistrate within whose jurisdiction the newspaper is to be published, stating name of the printer and publisher, premises where printing and publishing is conducted, the title, language and periodicity of the newspaper. The printer and publisher either in person or through an authorized agent should make the declaration. If the printer or publisher is not the owner of the paper, the declaration should specify the name of the owner.

Note: Similarly, no printing press can be set without making a relevant declaration.


The act requires that Every time a press is shifted to a new place a fresh declaration is necessary. But if the change of the place is for a period less than 60 days, the new location also falls within the jurisdiction of the same Magistrate, and the keeper of the Press continues to be the same. No fresh declaration need to be made. In that case an intimation regarding the change of place sent within 24 hours will suffice.

But, making a declaration does not automatically pave the way for publishing a newspaper. Publication can be started only after the said Magistrate authenticates the declaration.


Every time the title, language or periodicity is changed a fresh declaration must be made. A similarly declaration is necessary as often as the ownership or the place of printing or publication of the newspaper is changed.

However, only a statement furnished to the Magistrate will suffice if the change of place is for a period not exceeding 30 days or if he is by infirmity or otherwise incapable of carrying out his duties for more than 90 days, then a fresh declaration will have to be made.

Note: No person who does not ordinarily reside in India or a minor can file a declaration or edit a newspaper.

If the declaration is made in accordance with the provisions of the law and if no other paper bearing the same or similar title is already in existence in the same language or the same state, then the Magistrate cannot refuse to authenticate the declaration. However, before authentication he must make an inquiry from the Registrar or newspapers for India (RNI) about the existence of such other paper. After authentication the paper must be started within a specific period.

The declaration in respect of a newspaper to be published once a week or more shall be void if it is not commenced within six weeks of the authentication. In case of all other newspapers the time limit for commencing publication is three months.

If in any period of three months, a daily, a tri-weekly, a biweekly or a fortnightly newspaper publishes less than half the number of issues, which it should have published in accordance with the declaration, the newspaper shall cease to publish. A fresh declaration must be filed before it can be started again.

In case of any other newspaper the maximum period of non-publication must not exceed 12 months.

Two copies of each issue of a newspaper and up to three copies of each book must be delivered, in a prescribed manner to the Government free of expense.


The Magistrate can cancel the declaration after giving opportunity to show cause to the person concerned, if the Magistrate is satisfied on the following counts:

• The newspaper is being published in contravention of the provisions of this Act or rules made under it, or

• The newspaper bears a title which is the same as, or similar to that of any other newspaper published either in the same language or in the same state, or

• The printer or publisher has ceased to be so, or

• The declaration was made on false representation on concealment of any material fact.

The Magistrate’s decision can be challenged in an appeal before the Press and Registration Appellate Board comprising a Chairman and another member nominated by the Press Council of India.


If a newspaper (or a book) is printed or published without legibly printing the name of the printer and publisher as also the name of the place of printing/publishing, the printer or publisher can be fined up to two thousand rupees or imprisoned up to six months or punished by both.

The same punishment can be awarded for keeping a press without making declaration or for making false statement or for editing, printing or publishing a newspaper without conforming to the rules. In the last case the Magistrate, may in addition to this punishment also cancel the declaration in respect of the newspaper.

Non-compliance with the requirement regarding the delivery of copies of newspaper will invite a penalty of up to Rs 30 for each default.

In case of publication of a book, the value of the copies of the book may be charged.

Registrar of Newspaper:

There is a provision for appointment of a Press Registrar by the Government of India for the whole of the country. The Press Registrar maintains a register containing the following particulars of each newspaper:

Title, language, periodicity, name of the editor, printer and publisher, place of printing and publication, average number of pages per week, number of days of publication in the year, average number of copies printed, sold and distributed free, retail selling price per copy, and name and addresses of owners.


The Press Registrar also issues a certificate of registration to the publisher of the newspaper. He does this on receipt of a copy of the declaration from the Magistrate who has authenticated it.

The publisher has to furnish to the Press Registrar an annual statement for the above particulars about his newspaper.

The publisher has to publish all such particulars in the newspaper as may be specified by the Press Registrar. The Rules require the publication in the first issue after the last day of February each year, the name, address, nationality of the editor and publisher, and the name of all those holding one percent or more shares in the newspaper.

The newspaper is also obliged to furnish returns, statistics and other information as the Press Registrar may from time to time require. Non-compliance attracts a fine of five hundred rupees. The Press Registrar has a right of access to record and documents of the newspaper for the purpose of collection of any information about it.

Vernacular Press Act 1878:

Vernacular Press Act 1878 was enacted to curtail the freedom of the Indian-language (i.e., non-English) press. Notably Lord Lytton was being bitterly criticized for the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878–80). So, he promulgated the act with an aim to prevent the vernacular press from expressing criticism of British policies under him. The act excluded English-language publications. It elicited strong and sustained protests from a wide spectrum of the Indian populace.

It was nicknamed Gagging Act. For the first any Act empowered the govt. to issue search warrants and enter newspaper premises even without court orders. The IPC already gave powers to the govt. to search and forfeit publications which violated Sections like 124A, 153A or 295A. More stringent anti-press laws were enacted in the passage of time, particularly when the freedom movement gained momentum. British govt. wanted to curb the activities of revolutionaries and the right of newspapers to report these. Reporting was closely monitored and comments against govt. were not tolerated.

The law was repealed in 1881 by Lytton’s successor as viceroy, Lord Ripon (governed 1880–84). However, the resentment it produced among Indians became one of the catalysts giving rise to India’s growing independence movement. Among the act’s most vocal critics was the Indian Association (founded 1876), which is generally considered to be one of the precursors of the Indian National Congress (founded 1885).

        Later in 1882 due to the efforts of Lord Ripon the Act was repealed in 1882.


  1. Many thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I really feel strongly about it and adore learning far more on this topic. If possible, as you gain expertise, would you mind updating your weblog with more details? It can be really very helpful for me.

  2. Its good but it could have been better if it had all those acts mentioned in the start of the article.


  4. thanks to you .... keep writing.. :)

  5. क्या आप बता सकते है कि देश में सबसे पहली पुस्तक जो प्रतिबंधित हुई और कौन कौन सी हुई ?