The Hindi daily owned by Brajesh Thakur, main accused in the case pertaining to alleged sexual exploitation of minors at a shelter in Muzaffarpur, barely published 300 copies daily, but its daily circulation was shown as 60,862 copies. The daily, Pratah Kamal, would get advertisements worth nearly Rs 30 lakh per year from the Bihar government, sources said. Police said Thakur did not have enough staffers or a good printing machine to publish the number of copies it claimed to.
State police, which has handed over the case to the CBI, has said in its supervision report, “Thakur’s newspaper barely published 300 copies”. However, according to figures with the state Information and Public Relations Department (IPRD), the newspaper had a daily circulation of 60,862 copies.
According to police, when Thakur was asked about his claims of a daily circulation of 60,000, he could not give a convincing reply. The Indian Express had also seen only a computer operator and editor of News Next and Thakur’s daughter Ankita Anand at the office. All three publications come out from the same premises, on which the shelter was also located.
A newspapers agent at Muzaffarpur, Ratan Jha, told The Indian Express, “I have been selling Hindi and English dailies in Muzaffarpur and other parts of North Bihar for several years. I did not get any customer who would subscribe to Pratah Kamal…nor is it sold at any newspapers’ stand.”
A source added, “Thakur’s staffers would deliver copies of Pratah Kamal to all government offices and some people would get to read it at these offices.”
The IPRD has discontinued advertisements to the paper after a case was filed against Thakur and 10 others in the case pertaining to alleged sexual exploitation at the shelter run by Thakur’s NGO. An IPRD official said, “Brajesh Thakur has been an accreditated journalist with us for over 25 years. He has also been a member of Press accreditation committee for three terms (two years each).”
Asked how he could become a member of such an important committee thrice, the official said, “The committee members are decided by minister of the department. He is not in the current committee which was selected by the CM.” Explaining how Thakur’s newspaper could get regular advertisements, another IPRD official said advertisements are often given out as per circulation which is ratified by Directorate of Audio Visual Publicity.
“Since Pratah Kamal was a Muzaffarpur-based newspaper, it had been getting advertisements related to government schemes in North Bihar,” said the official, adding that Pratah Kamal has to be paid Rs 1.97 lakh for advertisements published in it in April.
Deputy director, advertisement, IPRD, Ravi Bhushan Sahay said, “We have already cancelled the accreditation of Brajesh Thakur. As for advertisement figures, we do not keep record of cumulative advertisement amount figures.”