A day after booking a journalist for exposing the poor quality of the mid-day meal at a primary school in Mirzapur, the district administration on Tuesday justified its action saying the reporter’s act had appeared suspect because he had shot a video of the incident despite working for a print daily.
Talking to reporters, Mirzapur District Magistrate Anurag Patel said the reporter Pawan Jaiswal had gone to the primary school to film a video and make it “viral” as part of a “conspiracy.”
“There is a different way to make news,” Mr. Patel said. “You are a print media journalist, you could have taken photos. You could have printed whatever you found wrong, but he did not do so. That is why his role appeared to be suspicious.”
Days after he filmed children eating roti and salt during the mid-day meal served in the school, Mr. Jaiswal was booked by police for trying to defame the government as part of a “conspiracy”.
The FIR was lodged on the complaint of Prem Shankar Ram, Block Education Officer, Mirzapur. Along with the scribe, the police also booked Raj Kumar Pal, a representative of the village pradhan, who tipped off the journalist about the inferior quality of meals being served at the school.
Public support poured in for the scribe with the Editors Guild Of India and the Uttar Pradesh Accredited Journalists Association demanding immediate withdrawal of the criminal case against Mr. Jaiswal for doing his job.
“It is a clear and classic case of shooting the messenger. 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,” the EGI said.
Mr. Jaiswal acknowledged the public support he received and demanded that the “baseless” allegations against him be withdrawn immediately.
“I did not do any wrong act,” said Mr. Jaiswal, adding that such action by the administration would demotivate scribes like him from doing their duty.
Minister of State for Basic Education Satish Dwivedi gave a vague reply when reporters asked him about the case filed against the scribe. “No action should be taken against [someone] for bringing to light corruption or any fact,” he said.
However, he added, “It is a matter of the police department.” So he would seek a report from the SP before any intervention.
While the scribe had been booked on the serious charge of criminal conspiracy, ironically in the same FIR, the administration admitted that only roti and salt were cooked for the children at the school till noon on August 22, when the reporter filmed the episode. But it accused Mr. Jaiswal and Mr. Pal of hatching up a conspiracy to defame the mid-day meal scheme and malign the State government.
Instead of arranging for the vegetables, Mr. Pal called Mr. Jaiswal, to the school premises and asked him to shoot a video showing students being served only roti and salt, the administration alleged.
The government said Mr. Jaiswal not only shot the video but also forwarded it to agency ANI, following which it was made viral on social media.
The action against the reporter was also contradicted by the stand taken by the administration after the issue came to light in August. Mr. Patel , the District Magistrate, had found the complaints to be true, after holding two independent probes at the local level.
“Both reports showed that it was true that the students were being fed roti and salt,” Mr. Patel said in August, as he announced the suspension of the teacher-in-charge and the gram panchayat supervisor for the lapse.
Mr. Jaiswal on September 2 stuck to his guns and said he had reported what he saw. “I saw at 12:07 minutes that the children were eating salt and roti,” he said, referring to his footage.
He also said that after he received information about the mid-day meal, he had even brought it to the notice of the assistant basic siksha adhikari Brijesh Kumar Singh before heading out to the school.
He said the district administration lodged criminal cases against him as the issue had become a “high-profile” one causing deep embarrassment to the administration.