New Delhi: A journalist with a Telugu news channel has alleged that his under-construction home was demolished in retaliation for his reportage of an MLA’s violation of lockdown rules by celebrating his birthday with over 500 supporters, The News Minute reported.
The journalist Paramesh, with Telugu news channel V6, had reported on the birthday celebrations of Narayankhed MLA Mahareddy Bhupal Reddy which violated lockdown rules by involving a large number of people.
Subsequently, an activist filed a petition in the Telangana high court over the violation of lockdown and Reddy was served a notice, on May 21, by the high court asking him to file a counter affidavit within a week. A day later Paramesh’s house was demolished by the Narayankhed Municipal Commission.
The journalist has alleged that the house was demolished on instruction from the MLA. “Municipal Commissioner Srinivas told me that he was under pressure from the legislator to take action against me. I have suffered a loss of Rs 10 lakh. We were building a two-bedroom house,” Paramesh told The News Minute.
— Pulse of Telangana (@PulseTelangana) May 22, 2020
However, the municipal commissioner has denied the allegation, saying the building did not have the required permits to begin construction. “The structure stands on a plot that was sold to him this year. Building permits are only given for those registered up until 2018 for now. The turn for 2020 will come later. He should have applied for it online. We were issuing the permit even during the lockdown,” he said.
The procedure of issuing a notice to owners of illegal structures was not followed by the Narayankhed Municipal Commission and it is unclear if other structures also fitting the ‘illegality’ described by municipal commissioner Srinivas were also demolished.
“Why was I singled out? Not everyone takes permits. There are many such small sites littered all over the area but they targeted just me,” Paramesh said.
He has alleged that the MLA had been on the lookout to find his ‘weak points’ as the report had irked him. “[MLA] Bhupal called me shortly after the report was aired and asked why I did the report. I told him there was no false reporting, the story is only about what we saw there,” he said.
Reddy has denied the allegations. “I am not concerned with this in any way. I was on some other job, distributing cheques for Kalyana Lakshmi scheme when the demolition took place. These allegations that I instructed officials are false and manipulated. The channel is affiliated to the Congress party in Telangana and wants to defame me. The reporter is affiliated to the Congress party. The channel worked for them during the elections. They are sympathisers who just blame and defame,” he told The News Minute.
Since the imposition of the lockdown, many journalists have faced retaliation or police action for reporting critically on issues of misgovernance and mismanagement of the response to the coronavirus crisis. As The Wire has reported, FIRs have been registered against journalists in Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Andaman and Nicobar, among others, often for highlighting administrative shortcomings.
Journalist unions and bodies have condemned this trend, state governments of India are “trying to silence the critical voice” by lodging FIRs against journalists.