MP: 132 Journalists Perished in COVID-19 2nd Wave, Compensation Given Rs 4 Lakh or Less
For representational use only.
Bhopal: As many as 132 media persons, declared as frontline workers by the state, perished in 2021 in Madhya Pradesh, said the government in the Assembly.
Their families were offered an average of Rs 4 lakh ex gratia, amounting to a total of Rs 5.26 crore, according to the data tabled by the government in the budget session against a question submitted by Congress’ Sardarpur MLA Pratap Grewal. He also sought the list of journalists who died in the COVID-19 waves and the compensations offered to their families.
Responding to his question, the Department of Public Relations replied that 183 journalists died in the last three years in Madhya Pradesh; 161 of them died in 2020 and 2021, referred to as COVID-19 times. The families of the deceased scribes were paid an ex gratia worth Rs 7.13 crore in total.
The state capital Bhopal reported 33 deaths of media persons in both waves of COVID-19 -- the highest in the state. As many as 23 died in 2021, when the second wave of COVID-19 ravaged the country, and ten in 2020. The financial capital of the state Indore, which saw the highest cases of COVID-19 in the state, reported 19 deaths of journalists in both waves; 17 of them died in the deadly second wave. Tribal populated Chhindwara and Dhar reported ten and eight deaths respectively, according to the government data.
The deceased were senior journalists from news agencies, reporters, and photo and video journalists of local Hindi dailies aged between 28 to 70. They fell prey to the virus in an effort to bring out the news on a daily basis.
Govt and Institutions Turned Their Back, Allege Families
Like government officials, who were declared frontline workers (FLWs) under the Mukhya Mantri COVID-19 Yoddha Kalyan scheme rolled out in May 2020, the state government also declared scribes or media persons as FLWs. The families of the FLWs were entitled to Rs 50 lakh upon death. However, the compensation paid by the government is nowhere near that amount.
A Delhi-based watchdog, the Network for Women in Media (NWMI), which compiled the data on the deaths of journalists who succumbed to COVID-19 in India, has pegged the national death toll at 626. NWMI has data on 47 journalists who died of COVID-19 in Madhya Pradesh.
Two days after a NewsClick’s report highlighted the deaths of journalists in MP, on May 3, 2021, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan extended the status of FLWs to accredited journalists.
He told a news agency, “Our journalist friends are risking their lives to perform their duties. Therefore, I decided to announce accredited journalists as frontline workers. The government will look after their health and family.”
Former Chief Minister and Congress leader Kamal Nath, too, had demanded to extend the FLW scheme to media persons in an official letter sent on April 30, 2021.
The journalists or media persons had only masks and sanitisers at their disposal while working amid the pandemic.
Their families alleged that not only their institutions but also the government deserted them or failed to provide beds and oxygen, which became the cause of death when they contracted the virus in the field.
In tribal-dominated Chhindwara, a health reporter of a Hindi daily, Dinesh Sahu (33), contracted the virus during a reporting assignment and died without proper treatment. Similarly, Dharmendra Chourey (28), the youngest journalist who fell prey to the virus in MP, used to run a local weekly newspaper called Sani Express.
Akash Saxena (33), who worked for a well-known Hindi daily in Gwalior, died after contracting the virus while in the field. Shivdan Singh Sikarwar (43) from Guna was in home quarantine, but as his health deteriorated, his family called for an ambulance. The vehicle almost took half a day to arrive, and Sikarwar died on the way to the hospital.
Despite the Chief Minister’s announcement, all families were offered an ex gratia of Rs 4 lakh or less than that.
“There are countless examples of young journalists and camera persons who were struggling to keep the people informed and fall prey to the virus, but only a few stories are told,” said Deepak Tiwari, journalist and author from Bhopal.
“The one who reports on others’ ordeals and injustice has his own agony, suffering and death going unreported. Very few organisations came forward to rescue their families,” he added.
Arvind Tiwari, President of the Indore Press Club, pointed out, “When the CM declared media persons as FLWs, why has the government not paid compensation as per the announcement? Our club tried to reach out to their families and provide some financial aid, but that wasn’t enough as we have limited resources and funds.”
“The state government should review their compensation and should pay accordingly,” he added.
The officials of the Department of Public Relations did not respond to NewsClick's calls despite repeated attempts.
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