Uttar Pradesh: Ballia Journalists Arrested in Paper Leak Case Released on Bail

Ajit Kumar Ojha, Digvijay Singh and Manoj Gupta were arrested by the police and named as accused in the paper leak case.

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Gorakhpur (Uttar Pradesh): Three local journalists who were arrested for reporting about the Uttar Pradesh Board class 12 English exam paper leak have been granted bail and released from the Azamgarh jail. While journalists Digvijay Singh and Manoj Gupta got bail a week ago, Ajit Kumar Ojha who was granted bail in two cases earlier, got bail in the third case from the district sessions court on Monday.

The three scribes were released from jail on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the Sanyukt Patrakar Sangharsh Morcha, an organisation of journalists, has decided to continue their agitation on the matter until action is taken against officials responsible, including the district magistrate and superintendent of police. The organisation said that the relay hunger strike that has been on at the district magistrate’s office since April 11 will continue, and it will also go ahead with the Jail Bharo Andolan on April 30 as announced earlier.

The question paper of the UP Board Intermediate English exam was leaked on March 30, following which the Intermediate English examination was cancelled in 24 districts. The district school inspector of Ballia was arrested after being suspended.

Earlier, the leak of the high school Sanskrit exam was also reported in Ballia, but the administration claimed the reports were untrue.

Ajit Kumar Ojha, Digvijay Singh and Manoj Gupta were arrested by the police and named as accused in the paper leak case.

More than 30 people were arrested by the Ballia police in the matter.

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While Ojha and Singh are affiliated with the Hindi daily Amar Ujala, Gupta reports for the Rashtriya Sahara. Singh and Gupta report from Nagra. An FIR was lodged against both of them at the city police station. Another FIR was lodged against Ojha by the city magistrate of Ballia. Later, Ojha’s name was included in the FIR registered at Nagra and Ubhaon police stations.

A first information report (FIR) was registered against Ojha and others on the basis of a complaint by city magistrate Pradeep Kumar at the Ballia police station. The accused were charged under Indian Penal Code Sections 420 (cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property); Uttar Pradesh Public Examination Act, 1998 Sections 4 (unauthorised possession and disclosure of question papers), 5 (leakage by a person entrusted with examination work) and 10 (penalty for leakage); and Section 66B of the IT Act (dishonestly receiving stolen computer resource or communication device).

The FIR reads, “On March 30, the information about the English question paper of the Board of Secondary Education, Prayagraj, being leaked, went viral on social media. A report on this matter was published in the newspaper. District School Inspectors are the officers responsible for conducting examinations and are also the custodians for the maintenance and distribution of question papers. Also note that this information is suspected to have been leaked/ gone viral from the phone of teacher Ajit Ojha, posted in Haripur Gadwar, and unknown persons.”

“As soon as the information about the leaked paper went viral,” the FIR goes on, “students created a ruckus and began sloganeering at exam centres, which could have disturbed the law and order situation. The exam was also interrupted. In connection with the above, register an FIR against all the responsible officers including the District School Inspector, teacher Ajit Ojha and unknown persons. Also, register an FIR and take appropriate action against unknown persons involved in the scandal with the intention of reaping monetary gains. Ajit Ojha is a teacher in Haripur Inter College and also a correspondent/journalist in a newspaper.”

Mithilesh Singh, counsel for the three journalists, told The Wire that a case was registered against Digvijay Singh and Manoj Gupta at Nagra police station under Sections 467, 468, 471, and 420 of the IPC and Sections 4, 5 and 10 of the Uttar Pradesh Public Examination Act 1998. Apart from Ballia police station, a case was registered against journalist Ajit Ojha under these sections in Nagra and Ubhaon police stations.

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Advocate Singh said that after investigation, the police withdrew Section 420 of the IPC but could not gather any evidence to prove their allegations. Digvijay Singh and Manoj Gupta got bail last week. Journalist Ajit Ojha also got bail in the case registered at Nagra and Ubhaon police stations. The district sessions court granted bail to Ojha in the third case registered at the Ballia police station on Monday.

Singh and Gupta said that even though their bail order has been passed, they would prefer to be released from jail only when Ojha gets bail. On Tuesday, bail orders of all three of them have been forwarded to Azamgarh Jail after completion of all the formalities. The three scribes were then released.

Journalists protesting at the Ballia DM’s office. Photo: Special arrangement

Madhusudan Singh, a prominent member of the United Patrakar Sangharsh Morcha and the provincial chief general secretary of the National Union of Journalists (India), said that their agitation will continue to demand action against the district magistrate and superintendent of police. Journalists who were released from jail on Tuesday will be welcomed at the agitation site. “We are determined to go ahead with our Jail Bharo Andolan on April 30,” he added.

Issuing a statement about his arrest on social media, journalist Digvijay Singh had earlier said that he reports from Ballia district’s Nagra for Amar Ujala and is also the block president of the National Union of Journalists (India).

He added that on March 29, he received a copy of the solved question paper for the Class 12 Sanskrit examination from his sources and immediately reported the same to his newspaper’s office. The story was published by the daily, followed by another report published the next day about Class 12 English question paper leak. Singh claimed that he was merely performing his journalistic duties, yet he was arrested along with another scribe (Ojha).

Singh also accused the police and the administration of harassment and alleged that the police action against the journalists is only an attempt to cover up the failure of the administration to stop copies of leaked papers from being circulated in the Nagra, Bhimpura and Belthara areas.

In his statement, Ojha, a Ballia-based correspondent who covers news related to the education department, confirmed that Amar Ujala first broke the news of the Class 12 Sanskrit question paper leak, followed by another report on an English exam question paper leak based on his coverage of the incident after he received solved papers, which had already gone viral online.

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Ojha said that when he asked the district administration and the DIoS for a comment, they did not furnish a satisfactory response. Later, the district magistrate and DIoS contacted him and asked for copies of the leaked question papers on WhatsApp, which he forwarded to both the officers.

Soon after, Ballia police personnel reached his office while he was at work on March 30 and arrested him. Ojha alleged that while arresting him, the policemen vandalised the office and manhandled his colleagues. He was detained at the Ballia police station for several hours before being sent to jail.

On receiving the news of the correspondents’ detention, a large number of journalists gathered outside the police station and staged a protest against their arrest. A sit-in protest was organised which turned into a relay hunger strike from April 11. To hold an organised movement, the journalists formed the Sanyukt Patrakar Sangharsh Morcha in which many journalist organisations joined in. Students, advocates, political parties and even businessmen demonstrated in support of the arrested journalists. Traders’ associations called for a Ballia bandh on April 6, which received widespread support. The effects of the bandh were felt across the district.

The journalists’ agitation continued even after the Ballia bandh. Demonstrations were held in support of the journalists at many places including Deoria, Mau, Azamgarh and Lucknow.

Manoj Singh is the editor of Gorakhpur Newsline.

Translated from Hindi by Naushin Rehman.