The Uttar Pradesh government has booked a journalist with a Hindi newspaper along with two others, including the Seur village pradhan pratinidhi (representative of the village head) on charges of criminal conspiracy and fraud. The FIR was filed ten days after a video showing students of the Seur government primary school in Mirzapur being served only roti and salt under the midday meal scheme surfaced on social media. The video was shot by Pawan Jaiswal, a correspondent of local daily Jansandesh Times. Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Awanish Awasthi said that Jaiswal was called to make this video which was stage-managed by the Mirzapur pradhan’s “so called representative”.
On Monday, even as the Editors Guild of India condemned the FIR against the reporter, Basic Education Minister Satish Dwivedi was quoted by PTI as saying that the action against the journalist for “merely exposing corruption and highlighting reality should not have been taken”. “I will ask the SP (superintendent of police) on what basis the police have acted,” Dwivedi said.
While Rajkumar Pal has been arrested, Jaiswal denied the allegations and said he was just doing his job as a journalist and was booked by a government trying to hide its own flaws.
— InUth (@InUthdotcom) September 2, 2019
The FIR was registered at the Ahraura police station in Mirzapur based on a complaint by Block Education Officer (BEO) Prem Shankar Rai. It charges Jaiswal and the pradhan pratinidhi Rajkumar Pal with criminal conspiracy for making the video and “maligning the image of the state government”.
According to ACS Aswathi, “there also was enmity between a temporary teacher at the school and Rajkumar”. “The journalist fell prey to that. This whole video was made so that the teacher would get suspended and the administration took action against him… Also, only that particular journalist was called because he was known to Rajkumar,” he said.
“If the journalist reached there and salt-roti was served, then he should have informed others. His intention behind making the video viral was wrong and it was not fair reporting. The image of the education department was maligned and so, we went to the basics of the incident and talked to everyone connected. So many FIRs have been registered against politicians, MLAs, officers and people were suspended. And if this happens against a few journalists then what is wrong.”
After the video surfaced on social media, BSA Praveen Tiwari was transferred and BEO Brijesh Singh suspended. In-charge headmaster of the Seur school Murai Lal and Nyay Panchayat Samanvayak (NPS) Arvind Tripathi was also suspended. The salary of shikshamitra Shanti Devi has been stopped until further orders.
According to the FIR, Pal had information that only rotis were prepared in the school and vegetables were unavailable. However, instead of informing the pradhan, he allegedly conspired with local journalist Pawan Jaiswal by asking him to make a video of the students being served “roti and salt” in the midday meal, which was later forwarded to a TV reporter for further circulation.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Jaiswal said that he had received frequent reports about bad quality food being served at the school and when he got similar information on August 22 from Rajkumar, he rushed there and made the video. He said that he gave the video to an ANI journalist and posted it later in the day on a local media WhatsApp group.
Jansandesh Times Editor Vijay Vineet said that this was an attempt by the administration to shut the voices of those raising matters related to public welfare. He said that they would support their correspondent at any cost. The newspaper, Vineet said, is published from Lucknow, Kanpur, Gorakhpur, Allahabad and Varanasi.
Condemning the UP government’s action, the Editors Guild of India emphasised that such reports display the value of fearless journalists. “It is a cruel and classic case of shooting the messenger. It is precisely exposés such as these that show how valuable free and fearless journalists are to a democratic society. It is shocking that instead of taking action to fix what is wrong on the ground, the government has filed criminal cases against the journalist. Using the IPC and police is no way to respond to this.” the Guild said.
According to the FIR, action was taken following an inquiry by the Chief Development Officer (CDO), Additional DM and Sub-Divisional Magistrate, Chunar. “After taking statements from the in-charge headmaster, an assistant teacher and a vegetable seller, it was found that on August 22 only rotis were made in the school and by 12 noon, no food was served to the students,” it stated.
“Journalist Pawan Jaiswal stated that pradhan pratinidhi Rajkumar Pal called him at 10.53 am, asking him to come to the school and he reached at 12 noon. There, in the presence of Rajkumar, students were served salt and roti and Jaiswal made a video of it at 12.07 pm.”
“Vegetable vendor Munna Lal said that in-charge headmaster Murari Lal had given him advance money for vegetables but no cook came to him to take the vegetables. Murari Lal said that he was informed by the pradhan pratinidhi at 10.47 am that there are no food items available in the school and so he rushed there with a bag of rice and wheat each,” stated the FIR.
“By the time he reached, the students were eating salt and roti,” stated the FIR, adding that Rajkumar put pressure on Jaiswal to circulate the video on electronic media.