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Modi Government’s High-Handedness Continues

By Harihar Swarup


Soon after a massive Aadhaar expose by a reporter from The Tribune, another shocking incident, involving the Press Association, an organization of accredited journalists and photographers, has come to light. For decades the Press Association had been provided a room in the PIB’s first floor in the Shastri Bhavan. Later, when the National Media Centre building was constructed, there also a room was reserved for the Association. Suddenly, the Press Association received a letter, directing it, to vacate the room within “five working days”. The letter did not assign any reason for this uncalled for action and simply stated “the competent authority” wants the room to be vacated. According to sources in the PIB, no senior officer was willing to sign the letter. So, it was signed by a junior functionary of the PIB.

Nobody in the PIB would confirm who was behind the move but sources said that it might have been done at the behest of Information and Broadcasting Minister Smitri Irani. The Press Association president, Jaishankar Gupta, said a delegation of the Association met the Minister but she refused to revise the decision. Gupta said the Association has been examining various options and may go to the court. “Government cannot arbitrarily through us out and that too without giving any reason”, he said and described the government decision as yet another assault on the press.


Press Association is the only association of journalists of the print media (newspapers, news agencies, magazines etc) who are accredited to Government of India. It has representation in most of the apex journalist bodies like Press Council of India, Central Press Accreditation Committee, Press Advisory Committee of Lok Sabha and Press Advisory Committee of Rajya Sabha, etc. It is a highly respected body and has a long history. Prominent journalists such as Mulgoankar, Chelapathi Rao and B G Varghese had been its members.


According to talk doing the rounds in the media circles, government may cancel accreditation of some freelance journalists and photographers. The PIB cards of several of them have not yet been released.


Last week, Rachna Khaira, a reporter of Chandigarh-head-quartered The Tribune, stormed the news with claims of Aadhaar database being vulnerable to leaks and misappropriation.  Her evidence was a back-alley transaction which went on to expose how readily, cheap and easy it was to gather private data which was protected under layers of security and surveillance. Instead of praise for the expose, an FIR was registered against   Rachna for cheating and forgery, among other things. The Editors Guild and The Tribune termed it as a ‘browbeat to investigative journalism”.


Coming under criticism, the UIDAI spokesperson offered a specious argument that it was “duty bound” to disclose all the details of the case and name everyone who is an active participant in the chain of events leading to commission of the crime. According to him, the UIDAI’s act of filing an FIR should not be viewed as targeting the media or the whistle-blower or shooting the messenger. But the core question that is agitating the minds of everyone; how safe is Aadhaar and what is the agenda behind its mad pursuit by the powers-that-be?


According to latest reports the Delhi Police, Crime Branch cyber has begun investigations in Aadhaar data access case filed against The Tribune, its reporter and others including unknown persons.


“We have sought certain details from the UIDAI. The information provided by them earlier was inadequate. We have asked them again as to what information was shared and what was the purpose and context of creating Anamika ID” he said.


Meanwhile, the American whistle-blower Snowden has said the journalist, Rachna Khaira whose report on Aadhaar data breached had let to FIR, deserved an award and not a government probe. (IPA Service)


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