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Shocking that case filed against journalist for salt-roti midday meal story: Editors Guild


Lucknow, Sep 2: The Editors Guild of India on Monday described as "cruel" and a "classic case of shooting the messenger" the Uttar Pradesh government's action of filing an FIR against a journalist for his report that rotis and salt were being served to children at a school in Mirzapur.

The Guild, in a statement, said it condemns the Uttar Pradesh government's action of filing an FIR under serious sections of criminal law against journalist Pawan Jaiswal for his report that rotis and salt were being served to school children as their lawfully guaranteed mid-day meal in Siyur primary school.

Image courtesy - ANI/Twitter

"It is a cruel and classic case of shooting the messenger. It is precisely exposé such as these that show how valuable free and fearless journalists are to a democratic society," the Guild said.

"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. Even if the government believes that his report is wrong, there are easy and conventional redresses available. Using the IPC and police is no way to respond to this," it said.

The police lodged a case against a journalist and a village head representative, accusing them of maligning the Uttar Pradesh government by recording a video of children at a school being served roti and salt as their midday meal last month. Hours after the media reported lodging of the FIR, Basic Education Minister Satish Dwivedi said on Monday the action against the journalist for merely exposing corruption and highlighting reality should not have been taken.

"I will ask the SP (superintendent of police) on what basis the police have acted," Dwivedi said.

[UP school gives roti and salt to children at mid-day-meal, Priyanka tweets]

The Samajwadi Party termed the filing of the FIR as an attack on "free and fearless journalism", with president Akhilesh Yadav saying the everyone should unite for the freedom of expression. The complaint stated that the village head's representative, Rajkumar Pal, was aware that only rotis were cooked and vegetable was not cooked in the Siyur Primary School in Jamalpur block of Mirzapur district.

But "instead of arranging it", Pal called journalist Pawan Kumar Jaiswal, who works in the print media, and "pressed him to run it" in the electronic media, according to the complaint lodged by Mirzapur block education officer Prem Shankar Ram at the Ahraura police station on Saturday.

Jaiswal and Pal have been booked under sections 120B (criminal conspiracy), 186 (obstructing public servant in discharging duty), 193 (false evidence) and 420 (cheating) of the Indian Penal Code, a senior police officer said. Some unnamed persons are also mentioned in the first information report. According to the complaint, Jaiswal and Pal had conspired and deliberately made the video in a well-planned manner and did "despicable work" of maligning the image of the state government. Jaiswal, however, denied the allegations.

"This is against journalism. You can see the news and verify it," he told a television channel. "Nothing is being created. I had told everything (to officials)." The video of students of the being served salt and roti in their midday meal had gone viral on social media on August 22, triggering widespread outrage and leading to the suspension of two teachers. "The journalist shot the video on his mobile and shared it with an electronic media agency," the FIR stated.

"I will see what is the real matter. The action only for exposing corruption and highlighting reality should not have been taken," the basic education minister told reporters. "I will seek a report from the SP.

Only after that I will able be tell you." Referring to suspension of teachers after the news about the roti-salt being served to students, Dwivedi said: "We had sought a report (from the SP) and, prima facie, we were informed that such an incident had taken place, due to which the action (suspension of teachers) was taken." The journalist, meanwhile, said he writes for a Delhi-based newspaper and got a call from someone on August 22 that there were discrepancies in the midday meal served to students in the school. "They were sometimes given salt-roti or salt-rice," he said.

Jaiswal said he reached the school for covering the news and also informed additional basic education officer Brijesh Kumar Singh about the visit. "I shot the first video at 12.07 pm and informed my colleagues, who informed the DM," he said. "The DM did a probe even before the news was run and suspended many." "Later, the matter became high profile. To save themselves, a number of cases have been lodged against me," the journalist said.

Reacting sharply on lodging the FIR against the journalist, Akhilesh Yadav tweeted: "Those who took away the meals of children have lodged an FIR against the journalist for exposing corruption and proved that the era of 'political encounter' of the journalist has started. Everyone should come together for the freedom of expression." Earlier, the Samajwadi Party criticised the move.

"Lodging of FIR against Pawan Jaiswal in Mirzapur for exposing black truth of those snatching children's food is an attack on free and fearless journalism," it posted on Twitter. "This act by the government, which is full of pride of power, proves vow of corruption (in the present regime). SP demands scrapping of the FIR," it said.

The National Human Rights Commission had sent a notice to the state chief secretary last week, seeking a detailed report about the status of the midday-meal scheme across the state within four weeks. As per norms under the flagship nutrition scheme, pulses, rice, rotis, vegetables, with fruit and milk on certain days, are to be served to school-going children to ensure necessary nutrition to them.

The scheme is designed to provide a minimum of 450 calories per child per day, which should also include at least 12 grams of protein each day. These meals should be served to each child at least 200 days a year.


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