When scribes face corruption charges & arrests

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Nava Thakuria-

It’s shocking to report that a number of Guwahati-based scribes and
RTI (right to information) activists have been facing interrogation
and even arrest by Assam chief minister’s special vigilance cell
following the allegations of Sewali Devi Sharma, the prime accused in
Rs 105 crore State council of educational research and training
(SCERT) scam, as being blackmailers to her in different occasions. The
arrestees include a lady reporter (identified as Pujamoni Das alias
Honey Kashyap, who reportedly took a large volume of money from Ms
Sharma) along with a satellite news channel reporter named
Bhaskarjyoti Hazarika. RTI activists namely Rabijit Gogoi (who
pretended to be a journalist) and Maina Saikia alias Anup Saikia were also arrested.

Ms Sharma, IAS (now suspended), revealed that a number of journalists
and RTI activists used to blackmail her, and she even paid no less
than Rs ten crores to them. She was picked up from the hide out (a
hotel in Rajasthan) on 8 May last and brought back to Assam on transit
remand. Currently, she is under judicial custody along with nine
others including her son-in-law Ajit Pal Singh, daughter Bijeta
Sharma, Rahul Amin, etc. There is a possibility that many more scribes
and RTI activists will face the music very soon.

In another front, some city-based television journalists are also
alleged to be involved in the NRC (national register of citizens)
updation scam in the State. Though the mainstream media has not
reported about the scam adequately, the social media users have taken
the lead. They made it loud and clear that those corrupt media persons
have cheated the people of Assam in a mission to have a correct NRC
(under monitoring of the Supreme Court of India).

The controversy began with two FIRs (first information reports), filed
by a former State NRC coordinator against his predecessor alleging
corruption and money laundering while updating the 1951 NRC in Assam.
The then top NRC official Hitesh Devsarma lodged the FIRs against
Prateek Hajela (who was appointed as the State NRC coordinator in 2013
following an order of the Supreme Court). Devsarma asserted that a
huge financial mismanagement had taken place during Hajela’s tenure as
the NRC head. Though claimed by Hajela the released NRC as the final
one, it’s yet to be notified by the Registrar General of India. Some
Guwahati-based journalists shamelessly propagated (reasons best known
to them only) it as the best one and Hajela a super hero bureaucrat.
Hajela is also facing a number of FIRs from different organizations
including Assam Public Works (APW), the key petitioner in the Supreme
Court on Assam NRC. Besides Hajela, APW president Sarma also lodged
police complaints against Wipro and sent a letter to Azim Premji,
chairperson of Wipro Technologies, informing him about the company’s
unholy role in the NRC updation process. He also urged Prime Minister
Narendra Modi to intervene on the matter so that the guilty
individuals are punished under the law. Pointing out that a large
amount of money came from foreign countries to influence the system
for incorporating thousands of foreigners’ names in the list, Sarma
insisted on the ED, CBI and NIA probes separately over the matter.
Meanwhile, a well-known Assamese entrepreneur also sued Hajela along
with Wipro and Integrated System & Services (worked as the
subcontractor and represented by proprietor Utpal Hazarika) for their
roles in Rs 155 crores money laundering during the updation process.
Luit Kumar Barman, the acclaimed film producer, personally lodged an
FIR at Paltan Bazar police station in the city. As his complaint was
not entertained by the police station, Barman approached the Kamrup
(metropolitan) chief judicial magistrate’s court with a plea to direct
the police to register his complaint. But the CJM court dismissed the
case citing the reason that it lacks the jurisdiction to investigate
the allegations.

In its order on 18 May, it stated that the court had ‘no jurisdiction
to investigate the matter’, ‘no jurisdiction to direct production of
the accused’ and ‘no jurisdiction to punish the accused as per law’.
The complainant introduced himself as a vigilant Indian citizen
against misappropriation of public funds and the court terms the
allegation in the nature of public interest litigation which the
specific court ‘has no jurisdiction to try’. Hence the prayers of the
complainant were rejected, but the court granted Barman the ‘liberty
to approach the appropriate forum with jurisdiction to redress’ his

However, the matter was reported by a section of Assamese news
channels as if the concerned court had closed the road for justice.
The motivated content narrated that the matter would never be heard by
any court in India as the ‘NRC updation process was done under
monitoring of the Supreme Court’. The complainant has now decided to
approach a different court and he believes that the CAG (comptroller
and auditor general) report for the year ending on 31 March 2020,
where it recommended penal actions against Hajela and Wipro should be
honoured. It emerges as a matter of serious concern for everyone in
the media fraternity, as some media persons prefer to misreport a
serious issue at a time when many others are already behind the bars.

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