Hours after a local vernacular daily published a news story claiming an officer in the office of Rajkot district collector tried to bribe its reporter by giving him a cheque of Rs 50,000 for ‘positive publicity’ of the state-level Republic Day function, Rajkot district collector Remya Mohan on Sunday held a press conference and said that eight cheques, including the one contested by the daily, were issued towards payment for ‘advertisements’ of the function and other build-up events organised in Rajkot.
“For the purpose of celebrating Republic Day, funds had been raised through public contribution. We accepted contribution from donors through cheques. This fund was not a government grant… We opened a bank account and accepted contributions through cheques. When media publishes advertisements, it charges for that. We paid eight entities for advertisements. Since the payment has been made through crossed cheques, there is no question of corruption as payment is for advertisement,” Mohan claimed while addressing mediapersons on Sunday afternoon.
When asked why the set procedure of routing government advertisements through the state information department was not followed, the collector said that since it was a locally created fund, her office had the liberty to utilise it in the manner it deemed fit for publicising the state-level Republic Day event which was organised in Rajkot. “We gave matter (sic) to all Press and told them to publish it in the manner they found fit so that events of January 24, 25 and 26 would be publicised, people would come to know events, time and venues and would take part in them. When a big state-level event is organised, it is natural that friends from media are also partners in it. Our intention was to publicise these events. No mala fide intention was there,” Mohan further said.
The collector was responding to a news story published by a Gujarati daily, Divya Bhaskar, on Sunday. In its report, the daily claimed that Hiren Joshi, a deputy mamlatdar in the Rajkot district collector office, handed a cheque of Rs 50,000 to Jignesh Vaid, a reporter with the daily on Saturday (February 1, 2020).
When the reporter asked the deputy mamlatdar what the money was for, the report quoted Joshi as saying,”Most of journalists take away some cash from here during festivals and elections. But if it is an issue for you, you may return the cheque issued in your name and we shall issue a new one in the name of… (the organisation)… ‘Saheb’ (sir) could have done this with the objective to get news published in a way that would not look paid news.”
The story claimed that Vaid accepted the cheque for the purpose of gathering ‘evidence’ and that he returned it to resident additional collector Parimal Pandya after that.
“The cheque was given to our reporter without any pending dues. This means someone wanted to please our reporter. But this is a waste of public money and careless decision-making. This was an attempt to bribe or influence or to lure our reporter,” Arjun Dangar, resident editor of Rajkot edition of the Divya Bhaskar said later on Sunday.
The collector, however, underlined that similar cheques had been given to eight newspapers which are published from the city. Out of the eight cheques, six were issued in the names of individuals who, the collector claimed were the ‘authorised reporters’ of their respective newspapers, while two were issued in the names of newspaper organisations.
She said that “bills had been received from most of friends,” while a few were pending. “There is no cash transaction involved here. There is no possibility of corruption… Nowhere does corruption take place by payments through cheques,” the collector further said adding, “some had interpreted things differently.”
The collector, however, refused to directly respond to claims made in the news report saying “we do not know what is their intention” and added that some reporters insisted that cheques be issued in their names. She also said that journalists themselves had ‘expressed wish’ to publicise R-Day events hence they were given publicity material.
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