FIR on journalist for salt-roti report
Police in Uttar Pradesh have registered a case against a journalist and two others for making a video of a midday meal served at a primary school that purportedly shows the students being given only chapatti and salt.
The FIR against Pawan Kumar Jaiswal, the journalist, and the others followed a complaint by Prem Shankar Ram, block development officer (BDO) of Jamalpur in Mirzapur district where Siyur Primary School is located.
The three have been charged with criminal conspiracy — among other penal code sections — an offence punishable with death or life imprisonment.
Police sources quoted Ram as saying in his complaint to Ahraura police station on Monday that the clip was part of a larger conspiracy to malign the administration.
“It was a cooked-up story to spread false information,” the sources quoted Ram as saying.
The FIR says Jaiswal, Raj Kumar Pal, a villager, and an unidentified person “conspired to defame the Uttar Pradesh government” by cooking a report on the midday meal and “making it viral on social media”.
Earlier, however, a day after the controversy broke on August 22, district magistrate (DM) Anurag Patel, the officer supposed to monitor the midday meal scheme, had said that such irregularities were “happening because of the mismanagement of the teachers”.
Patel had also said the video was authentic and action would be taken against guilty persons, effectively acknowledging that the children were indeed served salt and roti.
The DM later led a probe following directions from chief minister Yogi Adityanath. He submitted his report to the government on Friday. BDO Ram then lodged the complaint on Monday, based on the DM’s report.
Hours later, Jaiswal released a video from an unknown location. “Raj Kumar Pal had informed me on phone about salt and roti in midday meal. I went to the school at 12:07pm and found that it was true. I also talked to 10-12 students and they said they get only salt and rice or salt and roti in midday meals. I had also talked to a school staff who said the menu was the same for the last one-and-a-half years,” the journalist said in the video.
“I was also told by a school staff that some officers have asked them to let things go on like this because no senior officer would ever take the pain of visiting the school, located far away from the district headquarters,” he added.
“The administrative officers are falsely implicating me in a serious case to save their skin. I am ready for punishment if I have committed a crime. But I want the government to first punish those who are responsible for giving salt and roti to the kids in midday meals.”
Earlier in the day, BDO Ram had said the probe led by the DM had found that Jaiswal, who is also from Siyur and works with a Hindi newspaper; Pal, the villager, and an unidentified person had mischievously created a situation so that only salt and roti were served to the kids that day.
“Normally the midday meal is given to the students between 10:30am and 11am.
But it was distributed on August 22 at 12:53pm,” the police said, quoting from the DM’s report.
“A representative of the village panchayat goes to the local market and brings vegetables for midday meal every day. An advance money of Rs 300 was still there with the vegetable vendor but nobody turned up that morning to take vegetables for the school,” the police sources added, quoting from the DM’s report.
When reporters met DM Patel on Monday, he said it was Pal, the villager named in the FIR, who had been going to the market and collecting vegetables for the midday meal but did not on that particular day (August 22).
Then he took along Jaiswal, reached the school and made a video of the midday meal where the children were served only salt and roti, the DM said.
Rakesh Chaubey, in charge of the local police station, said: “We have registered an FIR against two identified and one unidentified person on the charge of criminal conspiracy and are investigating the case before action is initiated against the guilty persons.”
The case has been registered under IPC Sections 120B (criminal conspiracy), 186 (obstructing public servant in discharge of public functions), 193 (punishment for false evidence) and 420 (cheating).
A friend of the journalist said any “twist” in the tale was an “art” the government knew very well. “If we agree that some people didn’t buy vegetables for the school, did they also disrupt the supply of rice as part of the conspiracy? Adityanath claims he wants milk and fruits in midday meals. Who had stopped the DM or the BDO or the basic education officer to ensure that there was uninterrupted supply of these items?” the aide said.
“In fact salt and chapatti were distributed there every day over the last many weeks. The officers had talked to the students and some villagers but didn’t include all the versions in the report.”
When local reporters asked about the points the aide had raised, the BDO declined to answer.
The government had earlier suspended three education department employees after the video went viral on social media sites.