Lucknow: The Rae Bareli district administration in Uttar Pradesh has booked three local journalists on charges of publishing and sharing “baseless and false” news report of diversion "20 metric tonnes" of oxygen to adjacent district Kanpur at a time of public health emergency in the district, and has sought information on their sources.
Additional District Magistrate (Administration), Rae Bareli, Ram Abhilash issued notices to the three journalists — Shivam Kumar Trivedi, Anuj Awasthi on reports related to the diversion of oxygen supply in Hindi dailies 'Daily News Activist' and 'Kanwhizz Times', respectively, asking them to provide the source of the information that they published and shared on social media platforms.
Another journalist, Durgesh Singh Chauhan, who works for a local weekly Hindi newspaper, Rashtriya Kavach, was served notice about an article on the supply of oxygen to Kanpur from Rae Bareli, which he shared on his Facebook account.
"The misleading comments you have made in the article are meant to mislead the public and peddle false propaganda, which is a violation of section 66A of the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000," the notices read.
The district administration further warned the journalists who were sent notices to revert with an explanation about the article they published and sources of news before May 3 otherwise legal action would be taken against them.
Awasthi, one of the three journalists who received the legal notice from the Rae Bareli district administration, said he submitted his reply to the administration the same day.
"On April 19 late night, a leading news agency tweeted that amid reports of oxygen shortage and increasing COVID caseload, 20 tonnes of oxygen was delivered in Kanpur from Rae Bareli under strict police surveillance. The next day, a leading Hindi news channel aired the same story, and even a Hindi daily website carried the same. When I saw this news of my district, I cross-checked it twice and wrote a piece that 20 tonnes of medical oxygen was diverted to Kanpur from Rae Bareli despite medical emergency in district," Awasthi told NewsClick, adding that the article was published on April 22 and he received the notice after eight days, on April 30, when he visited district information office on May 2, a day before the deadline of response.
Awasthi, the bureau chief of Kanwhizz Times, questioned the "intention" of the district administration as the notice was issued on behalf of the district magistrate and was signed by the additional district magistrate Ram Abhilash.
"The administration does not dare to serve legal notices to journalists associated with news agencies or working with the mainstream, but they can threaten us and muzzle our voices by sending such notices as we do not have a stronger background," he said, adding that he will not bow down before administration as his article was factually correct.
Awasthi claimed that over 100 patients died due to shortage of oxygen and bed at AIIMS, Rae Bareli, and the district hospital. He said ADM Ram Abhilash is the nodal officer of the quarantine centre for COVID patients in Rae Bareli district for which the UP government has allocated Rs 15 lakh, but the “administration does not have any information regarding this.”
Durgesh Singh Chauhan, another journalist who was served notices for his Facebook post and asked to reveal the sources of news, said: "Whatever is happening in the district in terms of oxygen shortage, proves that the administration has failed to tackle the situation, and to hide its failure, they are threatening us by sending notices We will continue to expose the mismanagement of COVID," Chauhan said, adding that he is ready to go to jail but will not “compromise with his pen and journalism.”
Some other journalists NewsClick spoke with claimed that instead of issuing legal notices or threatening to take legal action, the administration should tell the public whether the 20 tonnes of oxygen was supplied in Kanpur from Rae Bareli or not.
NewsClick made several calls to additional district magistrate (Administration), Rae Bareli, Ram Abhilash, seeking his response but all went unanswered.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had recently asked officials in the state to take action under the National Security Act (NSA) against those spreading “rumours” and "propaganda” on social media, trying to “spoil the atmosphere”.
It is to be noted that this move comes after the Supreme Court on April 30, ordered that there should be no clampdown on information if citizens communicate their grievances pertaining to COVID-19 treatment on social media.
"I flag this issue at the outset. We want to make it very clear that if citizens communicate their grievances on social media and internet then it cannot be said it's wrong information. We don’t want any clampdown of information. We will treat it as a contempt of court if such grievances are considered for action,” the top court said in its order.
A bench headed by Justice Chandrachud and comprising Justices L. Nageswara Rao and S. Ravindra Bhat was hearing the suo motu case registered by the apex court on the ongoing COVID-19 crisis in the country.
FIR AGAINST AMBULANCE DRIVER
The Uttar Pradesh Police in Jaunpur district booked an ambulance driver and initiated legal action against him for allegedly providing free oxygen cylinders to patients who were unable to find hospital beds at the district hospital on Saturday, May 1.
The chief medical superintendent of Jaunpur District Hospital filed a complaint accusing the driver, identified as Vicky Agrahari, of violating the COVID-19 guidelines and risking the spread of the infection amid surging cases.
"I brought a patient from a private hospital to a government hospital in Jaunpur after his health condition started deteriorating but doctors at the private hospital refused to admit him, citing unavailability of bed and oxygen," Vicky told local reporters.
However, the hospital staff and authorities have claimed that there was no shortage of beds or oxygen in the hospital. Vicky has been accused for wrongly providing oxygen to patients outside the district hospital and violating COVID protocol.