The Jammu and Kashmir government on Monday said the Kashmir Press Club (KPC) ceased to exist and the building had been handed over to the Estates Department in the wake of “a threat of breach of peace and safety of bona fide journalists”.
"In view of the unpleasant developments and dissensions between various groups of journalists, it has been decided that the allotment of the premises at Polo View of the now deregistered Kashmir Press Club (KPC) be cancelled and control of land and buildings, which belongs to the Estates Department, be reverted back to it," a government spokesman said.
Stating that the Jammu and Kashmir government was "concerned" over the emergent situation, the spokesman said the factual position was that the KPC, as a registered body, had ceased to exist and its managing body too had come to a legal closure on 14 July 2021, the date on which its tenure came to an end.
"In these circumstances, issuing of notices and communication by any group using the rubric of erstwhile KPC is illegal," the spokesman said.
The government said it was committed to a free and fair press and believed that journalists were entitled to all facilities, including a place for professional, educational, social, cultural, recreational and welfare activities. "It also hopes that a duly registered bona fide society of all journalists shall be constituted as soon as possible and the same shall be able to approach the government for reallocation of the premises," the spokesman said.
The government move comes as the erstwhile elected body of the KPC announced fresh elections on February 15.
Shuja-ul-Haq, ex-president of the KPC, had earlier said that the elections were delayed last year after a government notice asked the club to re-register under the Union Territory laws.
The club was issued fresh registration on December 29, 2021 only to be put in abeyance by the Registrar of Societies on January 14, citing the Senior Superintendent of Police, Criminal Investigation Department, report that put the mandatory verification process of the elected-members on hold.
It was followed by the dramatic takeover of the KPC management by a group of journalists on January 15, who said their move was necessitated because the club was "not functioning properly".
The KPC and other associations, however, alleged that the armed police were backing the group of journalists and no due course was taken during the takeover.
The takeover was widely criticised by the Press organisations cross the country, including the Press Club of India, the Editors Guild of India and the Mumbai Press Club.Jammu and Kashmir leaders, including National Conference’s Omar Abdullah and Peoples Democratic Party’s Mehbooba Mufti, also criticised, what they called, the “state sponsored coup”.
The KPC, which was at the forefront of flagging the issues of internet blackout and harassment of scribes, has joined a long list of civil society bodies in Jammu and Kashmir that were either rendered defunct or denied permission to hold elections.
Most civil society bodies in Kashmir have been barred from holding elections on different pretexts, ever since the Centre ended J&K's special constitutional position on August 5, 2019. The prominent organisations included the Kashmir High Court Bar Association and the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries, which were disallowed elections earlier.