MP: Police Book Journalists for Reporting on Man Being Taken to Hospital on a Handcart

Though the man's family has confirmed the details of the news reports, the police have charged the journalists with forgery and public mischief and claimed the reports were "misleading and false".

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Bhopal: The Madhya Pradesh police has lodged a case of cheating against three journalists for running a “misleading and false” story of one Gyas Prasad Vishwakarma (76) who was taken to hospital on a handcart after four attempts to call an ambulance allegedly went in vain.

The incident occurred between August 15 and 16 in the Lahar block of Madhya Pradesh’s Bhind district. The news stories, against which the police filed a first information report (FIR), were carried on August 16 and 17 by three media outlets after reporters spotted Hari Singh (40), a resident of the Marpura village in the Lahar block, wheeling his father around on a handcart.

Singh was taking his father, Vishwakarma, to the government hospital. Speaking with reporters, Singh claimed that his father was suffering from diarrhoea and when an ambulance failed to show up, Singh and others took his ailing father in a handcart to the hospital as his health was deteriorating. 

They also claimed that the family doesn’t avail of any government benefits.

The day after the news reports were published, the district administration took cognisance of the matter, constituting a two-member committee of revenue and health department officials to look into the reports.

The committee contested the news reports, alleging that Singh did not call for an ambulance and that his father and family have, in fact, been getting the benefits of government schemes, such as the old age pension. Further, the committee claimed that the family had taken Vishwakarma to a private hospital and not a government one, therefore, calling the reports “false and misleading”.

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Thereafter, on August 18, on the complaint of Dr Rajiv Kaurav, posted as a medical officer in the Lahar Health Centre, police booked Kunjbihari Kaurav, Anil Sharma and N.K. Bhatele under Sections 420 (forgery) and 505 (public mischief) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Section 69 of the IT Act. Daboh police station’s head constable Kamlesh Kumar confirmed to The Wire on Monday, August 22 that a case was registered.

Sharma is associated with News18, Kourav with Patrika, and Bhatele with Lalluram.com, owned by News 24.

Vishwakarma’s daughter, Pushpa, however, refuted the district administration’s claim, saying a team of health officials visited the village and took photographs and a signature on a sheet of paper.

“They did not give us a chance to speak. If they would, I would have told them the truth,” said Pushpa in a video accessed by The Wire. “They claim that my brother, Hari Singh, avails of government benefits, which is a complete lie. Why would we live in shanties if we did?”

When asked about police action on journalists, she said, “They only showed whatever we told them. And whatever we told them is all true.”

Breaking his silence over the issue, journalist Sharma alleged that the district administration pressured Vishwakarma’s family members by threatening to stop the benefits of government schemes being given to them. Further, in a video clip, he claimed that the FIR had been filed on false grounds.

He further said that the family does not own a mobile phone and the one they used to call the ambulance belonged to someone else.

Opposition to FIR

The FIR drew huge criticism from various quarters, including from within the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as well as the Opposition.

Leader of the Opposition in the Madhya Pradesh assembly, Govind Singh, wrote a letter to chief minister Shivaraj Singh Chouhan, slamming the district administration for pressuring Vishwakarma’s family into making false statements against the journalists.

“This is an act of suppressing the media’s voice and the Congress will fight to ensure justice for these journalists,” he said in the letter.

Ramesh Dubey, a member of the BJP’s state working committee, also condemned the registration of the FIR and demanded action be taken against the erring officials. “The FIR against the journalists is wrong. They only highlight the issues and district administration should take cognisance over the issue, not journalists. “

A group of journalists met with the district collector on Monday demanding the withdrawal of the FIR, terming the act arbitrary. The journalists’ union gave a two-day ultimatum to resolve the issue.  

Speaking to The Wire, Bhind Collector Satish Kumar S. said, “The victim is constantly changing his statement. When the inquiry team visited the village, they claimed that they hadn’t made any calls. But after action on journalists, they said that they have made calls.”

“We are also trying to match the call logs and database of 108 to establish the claim. After the confirmation, action will be taken accordingly,” he added. 

Despite repeated attempts, Bhind district superintendent of police Shailendra Chouhan could not be reached for a comment.

(With inputs from Kashif Kakvi)