A week before Pawan Jaiswal, a correspondent of Jansandesh Times in UP’s Mirzapur district, recorded a video of a government primary school serving only roti and salt under the midday meal scheme, the same school had served students a meal of only rice and salt.
On Tuesday, two days after the Uttar Pradesh government booked Jaiswal along with two others, including the Seur village pradhan pratinidhi (representative of the village head) on charges of criminal conspiracy and fraud for recording the video, a cook at the Seur government primary school and students studying there told The Indian Express that this was not the first time meagre meals were served.
Rukmani Devi (40), whose daughter is a student at the school, said, “Rice and salt was served around a week before the journalist came and shot the video. That day, I told the headmaster in charge Murari Lal about the lack of supplies and that rice and salt is being served. He told me to shut up and said nobody will believe children if they say rice and salt was served.” Rukmani is also one of the two cooks for the midday meal scheme at the school. Murari Lal denied the allegation.
Another local resident, Kailash (27) said his daughter, who also studies in the same school, told him what she ate at school every day. “That’s the first thing she tells me after coming back from school. On two days, she told me about eating just salt with rice or roti,” said Kailash.
On August 22, Jaiswal had recorded a video of only roti and salt being served, which soon surfaced on social media. While the UP government has taken action against officials at the school and the district education department, an FIR was registered at the Ahraura police station in Mirzapur against Jaiswal and the Seur pradhan pratinidhi Rajkumar Pal based on a complaint by Block Education Officer (BEO) Prem Shankar Rai.
The FIR charged Jaiswal and Rajkumar Pal with criminal conspiracy for making the video and “maligning the image of the state government”.
Condemning the police action against Jaiswal, a protest was held at the district commissioner’s office by journalists Tuesday. At the school, meanwhile, the 97 students Tuesday were served a midday meal of pulses and rice.
Speaking to reporters, District Magistrate Anurag Patel, when asked why the journalist has been booked, said, “The way to report news is different. I will make you hear the video where a person is heard calling him and saying that I am conspiring and you come and help me make this video viral,” said Patel, adding that though the word “viral” is not in the video clip, the person is heard telling the journalist that he should help him make the video.
“He is a print journalist and could have taken photographs. He could have written about what was being done there. He did not do so, and hence his role seems doubtful and therefore, he has been booked under IPC section 120-B (criminal conspiracy).”
Jaiswal told The Indian Express that he had alerted Additional Basic Shiksha Adhikari (ABSA) Brijesh Singh before visiting the school on August 22 when he shot the video. “On August 22 at 10.50 am, I got a call from Rajkumar Pal about issues with the midday meal at the school. At that time, I didn’t even know he is the pradhan’s representative. After the call, I spoke to ABSA Singh and told him I’m going to the school for the story. He told me he’ll look into it. I have the recordings of both conversations — with Rajkumar and ABSA. Then, I went to the school and took the videos. I first reported the story for my paper and then the video was shared among other reporters. This is an attempt by the administration to silence me,” he said.
Vijay Vineet, Editor of Jansandesh Times, said that it was a good move by his reporter to record a video of the incident. “In today’s age, it is important to have evidence of your story. If he had not shot the video, then the administration would have said why didn’t you shoot a video when you have a phone with a camera,” he said.
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, that FIR states that 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.
Station Officer, Ahraura police station, Rajesh Chaubey said that they are investigating the case and cannot disclose details. “Until now, we have not found any evidence against the journalist and the investigation is ongoing,” he said.
The UP government Monday claimed that the journalist “fell prey” to a conspiracy to get a teacher suspended and was orchestrated by Rajkumar Pal. But local residents of Seur village said this was just a “cover up”.
“There is no enmity between them. This is a made-up story to cover up the failure of the school headmaster in charge and other officials. This school is located in the interior, so they thought no one will ever know,” said Saranga (25), whose son studies at the school.