New Delhi: The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs has sent a letter to the news agency Press Trust of India asking it to cough up more than Rs 84 crore within a month’s time.
The ministry’s demand letter to PTI for Rs 84,48,23,281 has come barely two weeks after the Centre’s broadcasting arm Prasar Bharti called the independent news agency “anti-national” and threatened to withdraw its subscription. The government was reportedly miffed at PTI’s interview of the Chinese ambassador and a news alert it issued on its interview with the Indian ambassador in Beijing, that contradicted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s claim that there had been no Chinese intrusion across the line of actual control on Ladakh.
The ministry’s letter, issued by the Land and Development Office on July 7 which has come to the notice of the agency on July 13, termed the said amount as a penalty for PTI’s alleged “breaches” of the land lease of its office on New Delhi’s Parliament Street.
The letter said the lessor (the government) would regularise the “breaches in the premises temporarily up to July 14” and withdraw its “right of the re-entry of the premises” – i.e. its right to evict PTI – if it agrees to pay up the said amount within 30 days.
A PTI spokesperson, confirming receipt of the letter, told The Wire, “We are seeking clarification from the authorities (on the alleged breaches) and (have) no further comments for now.”
One of the conditions of the demand notice is also that if the amount is not paid within the stipulated time period, an additional 10% interest penalty may be levied. It also stated, “The present letter offering terms will not act as a waiver for recovery of any other charges which may in the discretion of the Lessor (the government), be found payable by you (PTI) at a later stage.”
The ministry has asked PTI to furnish an undertaking on “non-judicial papers of Rs 10 duly witnessed by two persons to the effect that you (PTI) will pay the difference of misuse/damage charges etc. if the land rates are revised with effect from April 1, 2016 by the Government of India and will (also) remove breaches by July 14, 2020, or get them regularised beyond for which charges have been paid.”
On June 26, PTI ran an alert of an interview of the Indian ambassador to China, Vikas Misri, where, in contradiction to Modi’s claim that Chinese forces were well within their side of the border, the diplomat said that China needed to return to its side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC). This meant that Chinese soldiers had indeed crossed over to the Indian side.
PTI’s eventual copy of the interview excluded this quote. This exclusion was widely considered to have been made at the behest of the government.
Earlier, sections of the establishment had taken offence at the fact that PTI had interviewed the Chinese ambassador about the standoff.
On June 27, Prasar Bharti, which runs the Doordarshan and All India Radio networks, called the premier news agency “anti-national” and threatened to cut its links with it.
A large number of prominent media persons, including the Press Club of India, have denounced Prasar Bharti for calling PTI “anti-national”.
PTI sources say Prasar Bharti has not withdrawn its subscription yet. Annually, it pays the news agency around Rs 7 crore in subscription money. It is understood that the government’s broadcasting body has been holding back about 25% of the PTI subscription fee annually, leading to an accumulation of about Rs 11 crore as outstanding amount.