New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government has imposed a fine of Rs 84.48 crore on news agency Press Trust of India (PTI) for allegedly violating terms of the lease under which it was allotted land for its Sansad Marg office in Delhi.
Officials of the Union housing ministry confirmed as much to ThePrint, but denied that the news agency was being singled out.
The fine comes amid an alleged attempt by the government to penalise PTI for an interview with Chinese ambassador Sun Weidong last month in which the latter blamed the Ladakh standoff and the Galwan Valley clash on India.
Following the interview, public service broadcaster Prasar Bharati told PTI that it is reviewing its Rs 7-crore annual contract with the news agency, in the wake of “recent news reports” that it alleged were detrimental to India’s national interest and may have undermined the country’s territorial integrity..
PTI was issued the Rs 84.48 crore demand notice, a copy of which has been accessed by ThePrint, by the ministry’s Land and Development Office (L&DO) on 7 July. It has been given time until 7 August to pay up, and will be liable to pay a 10 per cent interest on the dues if it doesn’t.
PTI has been given a week’s time to seek any clarification.
According to housing ministry officials, the PTI office is built on land leased to the agency by the government. The officials said PTI had not paid ground rent since 1984.
One of two officials who spoke to ThePrint said PTI has over the years violated several lease terms.
“Since 1984, PTI has not paid the ground rent. Besides, they have misused the land-allotment terms by converting the basement into an office. Under the lease term, the basement is to be used only for storage purposes,” the official added.
The official said the news agency had also undertaken unauthorised construction on the land. “The Rs 84 crore fine combines all these violations, which the agency has failed to address despite several notices from us in the past,” the official added.
When asked why the demand is being raised now, a second official said it was routine action that they took from time to time.
“We keep raising demand on all such L&DO properties that have violated lease terms. It’s a continuous process.”
Approached for comment, a PTI spokesperson confirmed they had received the demand notice. “We are seeking clarification from authorities, and have no further comments for now,” the spokesperson added.
Latest among other steps
The demand notice comes days after PTI was threatened by public broadcaster Prasar Bharati with withdrawal of its Rs 7-crore/year subscription over the news agency’s “anti-national” news coverage.
However, Prasar Bharati sources said a final decision on cancelling the contract with PTI is yet to be taken.
Industry insiders say PTI’s troubles with the government began in 2016, when its board of directors reportedly decided against appointing any political nominee to succeed its then editor-in-chief and chief executive officer, M.K. Razdan.
One of India’s oldest news agencies, PTI has a huge domestic and foreign reach. The only other agency comparable in scope is the private player, ANI.
Started in 1949, PTI is governed by a 16-member board, which includes journalists and independent members.
According to the PTI’s website, the agency employs more than 400 journalists and 500 stringers and puts out more than 2,000 stories and 200 photographs a day.
PTI has exchange arrangements with several foreign news agencies to magnify its global news footprint, the website states.
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