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Cost of truth?

An FIR was filed against journalist Pavan Kumar for his story on roti-salt mid-day meals in UP’s Mirzapur

A case of children being served salt and chapati as part of their mid-day meal emerged in Uttar Pradesh’s Mirzapur a few days ago, leaving the state’s Yogi government red-faced. However, in a dramatic twist, an FIR was filed against Pawan Kumar Jaiswal, the journalist who uncovered the matter, on August 31.

Jaiswal, who works for the local newspaper Jansandesh Times, was slapped with sections 120-B (punishment for criminal conspiracy), 186 (obstructing public servant in discharge of public functions) and 420 (cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property) of the Indian Penal Code. Besides him, the FIR also mentions head representative Rajkumar Pal and one other person present.

It has been filed by Block Education Officer (BEO) Prem-shankar Ram of Mirzapur’s Jamalpur block.

Allegation of conspiracy against the journalist

Jha’s FIR has levelled charges of conspiracy against Jaiswal and others. According to the complaint, a committee had been formed by the District Magistrate (DM) to look into the matter of salt-chapati meals at the Siyur primary school in Mirzapur. This committee included the Chief Development Officer (CDO), Additional District Magistrate (ADM) and Deputy District Magistrate (DDM).

This joint investigation revealed that on the day of the incident (22 August), only chapatis had been prepared in the school and children were not served food till 12 pm. Jaiswal arrived there at 12 pm, when chapati-salt was served to the children in the presence of head representative Pal. Jaiswal then proceeded to video-record the scene.

The FIR includes a statement of the local vegetable seller, who stated he had been handed some money in advance by Murari Singh, a school teacher. He was told he should never turn down the cook if he wanted to buy vegetables. He still had Rs 300 of the advance sum.

The FIR states that the Jaiswal’s act, in connivance with Pal, was a conspiracy to deliberately defame the state government through the Mid-day Meal scheme.

Jaiswal’s claims

Pawan Jaiswal told Newslaundry that the allegations levelled against him by the administration were baseless. He claimed that they were borne out of a sense of revenge since his report had embarrassed the state government and the district administration.

According to Jaiswal, around 10 am on August 22, he got a call from a villager who told him that the children in the village school were being served roti-salt, rice-salt or water-like dal with rice as part of their mid-day meals since many days.

He said: “I left home around 11:30 am and around 11:50 am I called the local Assistant Basic Education Officer Brajesh Singh. I told him that a case of irregularity that surfaced at the primary school in Siyur and that I was going there. He said he would gather information about it. I have a recording of this conversation. Then I reached the school and saw children eating chapati with salt. It was 7 minutes past 12 then. I instantly started recording a video.”

Jaiswal says after he recorded the video, he also made videos where the school’s cook, a teacher and about 18 children talked about the  matter.

“I wrote a copy for my newspaper Jansandesh after returning from the school. Then I shared this news with our local reporter Neeraj Kumar. I told him here’s the video. Let’s talk to the District Magistrate about the action he will take on it. Local reporters share news among themselves,” he adds.

When Neeraj went to the DM with the news, he was assured that an investigation will be initiated. The DM appointed Chunar tehsil’s ADM and Sub Divisional Magistrate (SDM) to investigate it. In the investigation report, all the claims were found true. The DM then told the media that the video which surfaced online was authentic. “In fact, I had only mentioned salt-roti, but the DM said that the children were given salt-rice a day before. After investigation, the DM suspended Murari Singh and the Nyaya Panchayat Supervisor Arvind Tripathi,” Jaiswal says.

Pawan goes on: “Two days later, when the Chief Minister summoned a report, the District Magistrate sent this one. He was then asked to take action against the accused. He filed a case against us. These people booked us as accused after seeing the mess and to save their image.”

DM’s first statement

After the incident, Mirzapur DM Anurag Patel gave a statement — a video of which Newslaundry has accessed. In the video, he says: “I’ve learnt through the media that children have been fed salt and chapati in a primary school in Siyur. I conducted two investigations in this matter: One by the Block Education Officer through the Basic Education Officer, and the second investigation through the Tehsil Officer. Both reports showed that the claims are true. The children were fed chapati and salt. Earlier, a woman named Radha was posted in the school, but given her poor functioning, Murari was appointed in-charge of the school in July. Prima facie it has been found to be Murari’s mistake. Murari has been suspended and the Panchayat’s Justice Supervisor Arvind Tripathi has also been suspended.”

DM Patel did not stop here. “The Block Education Officer also has the responsibility to inspect the schools in his area. He has been notified too since we were informed of his negligence. Action will be taken against him once we get his answer in two to three days. My office has also served a notice to the Basic Education Officer asking him why such a huge irregularity occurred in a district where he was present. Once we get clarification from the Block Education Officer and Basic Education Officer, appropriate action will be taken against them.”

In the light of this statement, the DM had conducted an investigation in the immediate aftermath of the incident and found the claims to be true. But the local administration is now describing the case as a conspiracy by a journalist, a head representative and an unknown person.

In this regard, Newslaundry spoke to DM Patel to know his perspective. However, his office constantly expressed its inability to put us in touch with him citing a busy schedule.

Newslaundry also spoke to Mirzapur Superintendent of Police (SP) AK Pandey about this matter. He said that a conspiracy has been revealed in the inquiry conducted by the DM and action is being taken on this. Rajkumar Pal, the head representative, has been arrested in the case, and after an investigation by the investigating officer, action will be taken against the journalist and others.

Doubts on the FIR’s intention

Several questions arise on the intention and the facts of the FIR lodged against Jaiswal and others. For example, the FIR says that only chapatis were prepared in the school till 12 pm that day. The vegetables had not been cooked yet. In the meantime, the journalist supposedly recorded the video as part of a conspiracy to fake a story and tarnish the government’s image. There is also a statement by the local vegetable seller. A local villager called Ashok Sahni has stated that salt-chapati was served and the video was recorded in the presence of Rajkumar Pal. This means that the children had not received food till then.

Now the question that arises is if till 12 pm only rotis were prepared, and if the cook had not even gone out to get vegetables, what were the children supposed eat the chapatis with?

Ajit Saxena, personal secretary of Uttar Pradesh Mid-day Meal Authority director Vijay Kiran Anand, told Newslaundry, “The UP government has fixed the time for mid-day meal in summer and winter. Between April 1 and September 30, children have to give mid-day meal between 10:30 am to 11:00 am and October 1 to March 31 between 12 pm and 12:30 pm.”

According to this, the children in the school should have been served their meals by 11:00 pm. But the FIR clearly states that only chapatis were prepared at 12 noon. What does this mean?

Keeping in mind the facts and the earlier statements given by the DM, the lodged FIR makes one thing crystal clear: the district administration is out to get journalist Pawan Jaiswal.

However, on September 4, the Chairman of the Press Council of India, Justice Shri Chandramauli Kumar Prasad, took suo motu cognizance regarding the FIR against Jaiswal.

According to The Hindu’s report, the district administration of Mirzapur justified their actions by saying, that despite working for a print daily the journalist shot a video of the issue which, to the eyes of the authorities, was suspicious.

Jaiswal received huge public support, especially on social media platforms. The Editor’s Guild of India and Uttar Pradesh Accredited Journalist Association is demanding the immediate withdrawal of the criminal case against Jaiswal.

In a press release, the PCI has asked the Uttar Pradesh government for a report on facts of the case. It has also constituted a Fact Finding Committee on the matter.

The Press Release stated “Press Council of India Chairman Justice Shri Chandramauli Kumar Prasad has noted with concern reports of filing of an FIR against the Journalist Shri Pawan Jaiswal for reporting on mid-day meal issue in the district of Mirzapur Uttar Pradesh.

“Taking suo motu cognisance of the issue, a report on the fact of the case has been called for from the Government of Uttar Pradesh.  A Fact Finding Committee has also been constituted to look into the matter.”

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