Mirzapur: In the latest development in the alleged Mirzapur mid-day meal scam in Uttar Pradesh, the Mirzapur police have arrested the person who informed journalist Pawan Kumar Jaiswal about salt-roti being served to children.
Jaiswal, who has also been booked under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, said, “The person who informed me about it, who is also the representative of the village headman, has been sent to jail.”
“We had got information about an FIR being registered against us on late Sunday night. The person who informed me, Raj Kumar Pal was picked up by the police on the same night but officially he was sent to the jail on Monday evening. This is what I know through the police,” the journalist said.
Jaiswal added, “The senior officials in the district think that I have defamed the district and the state government by making the video, but I tried to expose the flaws in the system and have nothing against the government. I went to the police station to cooperate in case, but they declined my request saying the investigation is on.”
“Sir, I am just a journalist and such an action by the administration will demotivate me and our information sources and stringers who are working in very small places under very difficult situations. Please do me a favour, ask the government to withdraw the FIR against me,” Jaiswal said.
Also read: Mirzapur Mid-day Meal Scam: Scribe Slapped with Criminal Charges for Exposé
Meanwhile, the summary of the FIR raises many questions on the intention of the Mirzapur administration. The FIR summary says that the journalist hatched a conspiracy by recording the incident at 12 PM, when only rotis (flatbread) mere made and the vegetables were not prepared.
However, the vendor who supplies vegetables to the school testified that no vegetables were bought for that day, lending support to the journalist’s argument that the students were forced to either eat the only rotis, or with some salt.
As per the office of state Mid-Day Meal Authority, “The mid-day meal timings as set up by the government of Uttar Pradesh during the summer season is between 10:30 AM to 11 AM, while i winters it should be served to students between 12 noon to 12:30 PM.” So, as per this rule, the students should have already been served the meal by 11 AM. But, in this particular school, the meal was not ready till 12 PM which also raises questions on the mid-day meal management. What comes across is that the district administration is more than willing to blame Jaiswal for this issue.
‘Bizarre’ Comment by Mirzapur DM
“We found the activity of this journalist very suspicious as he is a print media man, but he made a video of the incident. He could have taken a photograph and published an article on it, instead he made the video. That is why we took action against him,” District Magistrate Anurag Patel was recorded on video as saying.
Meanwhile, Uttar Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister Dinesh Sharma assured the media in Kanpur that no action would be taken against the innocent and real culprits will face the consequences. “Let the investigation get over,” he told the media.
When questioned about this episode, Uttar Pradesh Basic Education Minister Satish Dwivedi said, “The government is not muzzling the voice of media and we respect and value press freedom. The government has sought a fresh report into this matter and necessary action will be taken once the government gets the report.” He also reiterated that the innocent will not be harassed and government was there to protect everyone.
Media Fraternity Protests
Meanwhile, support for Jaiswal poured in from the media fraternity across the country, while journalists in Mirzapur went on a pen down strike demanding withdrawal of the FIR against him.
“Going after a specific person for exposing the flaws in system is not done. The administration should immediately withdraw the FIR or we will boycott the coverage of all government events no matter how important it is,” said Suresh Mishra, who is one of the office bearers of the Mirzapur press club.
In Delhi, the Editors’ Guild of India on Monday issued a statement seeking withdrawal of the FIR against the journalist, terming it as a case of “shooting the messenger.”
Also read: UP School Children Seen Eating Roti-Salt, Data Suggests Huge Scam in Mid-Day Meal Scheme
The Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) also expressed shock and dismay at the filing of criminal cases against the journalist for exposing the corruption in the school mid-day scheme at a government school in Siyur.
"Is reporting mid-day meal farce a crime,” said DUJ in a statement.
It added that in the circumstances, it was “outrageous that Jaiswal and two of his sources including the village Pradhan have now been charged under IPC sections 186 (voluntarily obstructing public servant in discharge of his function), 193 (false evidence), 120 B (criminal conspiracy) and 420 (cheating) because the state government feels its image was being deliberately maligned by Jaiswal’s report.”
The DUJ demanded that the charges against Jaiswal and others be withdrawn immediately.