New Delhi: Taking a cue from Uttar Pradesh officials, a government department in Haryana has filed a case against a Hisar-based journalist for defamation and trespassing nearly two months after he reported on mishandling of foodgrains at a government warehouse in Uklana town.
On 8 September, the Haryana police registered a case against Anoop Kundu over a complaint by a State Food Civil Supplies & Consumer Affairs Department official.
The complaint alleged that Kundu’s report, aired on STV Haryana News on 18 July, featured a fake video of the warehouse to defame the department.
Speaking to ThePrint, Kundu denied the charge. He added that Food and Supplies Minister Karan Dev Kamboj had assured reporters of action over the irregularities in the warehouse after the report reached him.
However, an official from the food supplies department told ThePrint on condition of anonymity that the action against Kundu has been taken at the behest of Kamboj.
“All these actions are being taken at the behest of the minister. We are also trying to get rid of this case. One official has spoken to a senior journalist to not escalate this. Further actions will be directed by the minister’s office itself. It’s no more in our hands,” said the official.
Kamboj’s office told ThePrint that the minister directed the department to investigate the matter and act accordingly.
“We found out that the journalist tried to defame the department. We stand by this FIR,” said an official in Kamboj’s office.
How the case started
Speaking to ThePrint, Kundu said he first got to know of rotting wheat at the Uklana warehouse on 17 July.
“I went there and recorded the security guard’s version. In the evening, I received a threatening call from inspector Ramfal saying ‘how dare I enter the warehouse’. The audio of that conversation has gone viral too. The next day my channel STV ran the story,” said Kundu.
In the video, the wheat stored at the government facility can be seen rotting.
“It (report) reached Food and Supplies Minister Karan Dev Kamboj. He assured that strict action will be taken. After that some BJP leaders and concerned officials visited the warehouse to inspect and found my allegations true,” said Kundu.
“But on 19 July when someone in Karnal asked the minister about this story, a conspiracy against me started.”
What the officials say
Ramfal, a ‘C’-level official in the State Food Civil Supplies & Consumer Affairs Department who has been named by Kundu for threatening him, dismissed the allegations.
“The video was fake. It was manipulated. The board shown in the video was ours but the later part was from another warehouse. Now the matter has reached the courts, the truth of the allegation will come out in the investigation,” he said.
However, a second official from the department said nobody wanted to drag a trivial issue but “somehow it has become big”. He added that videos and reports by local journalists over the state of affairs have been a regular practice.
Several other officials ThePrint contacted refused to speak over the issue.
Protests against charges
Last week, close to 50 journalists across Haryana gathered at the media center in Hisar to protest the case against Kundu and submitted a memorandum to the district’s deputy commissioner, Ashok Kumar Meena.
They also demanded action against District Food Supply officer Subhash Sihag, who was among a member of a team that visited the Uklana facility earlier this month to verify if there was any truth to Kundu’s report.
Sihag told ThePrint, “The video is manipulated. A case has been registered. Let there be fair investigation and truth will come out.”
On his part, Meena assured the journalists of a fair investigation in the matter.
Hisar journalist Vijender Singh, of The Times of India, said, “If the matter escalates we will plan further action but right now our only focus is to get this FIR cancelled. We are with Anoop.”
Rudra Rajesh Kundu, another local journalist who has been raising the matter on social media, told ThePrint, “I have known Anoop for many years now. He has many breaking stories in his name. In fact, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar has taken cognisance of his report on the nexus of private and government hospitals.
“Everything is being directed from the minister’s office as we can see in the FIR. The officials have even quoted minister’s noting too,” said Rudra.
The FIR quotes the minister as saying that the food supplies department may take legal action against the news agency.
Kundu told ThePrint, “I come from a farmer’s family. I joined this profession seven years ago. Yes, the police cases scare the family. Truth be told, I was scared too. But the support from journalists has given me some relief and confidence.”
Shooting the messenger?
This latest incident of action against a journalist over an adverse report comes on the back of other such cases in Uttar Pradesh.
Earlier this month, the UP government registered a case against journalist Pawan Kumar Jaiswal for his report on a school in Mirzapur that was serving only rotis and salt to children as their mid-day meal.
Both UP and Haryana have BJP governments in the state.
Haryana is set for assembly elections later this year, with the Khattar government seeking re-election for its “transparent administration” as the CM has been describing his regime in ‘Jan Ashirwad’ rallies. Earlier in May, the BJP won all the 10 Lok Sabha seats in Haryana and is looking to repeat the dominant performance in state elections too.