More than 100 journalists protested today at the Mirzapur Collectorate office in UP, a day after a case was filed by the state government against a reporter who filmed students at a government school eating rotis with salt as their mid-day meal.
In the video from the Mirzapur school, young children are seen sitting on the floor of the school corridor, eating rotis with salt under a flagship scheme of the central government. The video was shot on August 22 by Pawan Jaiswal, who works with a local Hindi daily, Jansandesh Times.
The journalists condemned the complaint by Block Education Officer of the area that accuses Mr Jaiswal and a representative of the local village head of conspiracy to defame the Uttar Pradesh government. Mr Jaiswal has been targeted for doing his job, the journalists said.
"We are protesting because our reporter exposed how school children were being fed rotis and salt. The video he shot went viral, the district magistrate himself went to the spot and he said this was true. Is it wrong to expose to truth?" asked Sanjay Dubey, district chief, Jansandesh Times.
The website of the Uttar Pradesh Mid Day Meal Authority - the overseeing body for these meals in the state - describes an elaborate menu that is supposed to be served to the children at the state-run primary schools. It includes pulses, rice, rotis and vegetables. Fruits and milk are included on certain days, according to the meal chart.
The three-page first information report, however, mentions that only rotis were cooked in the school on the day when the video was shot. It further adds that the village head's representative should have arranged for vegetables instead of calling a reporter to the school premises.
A day after the video went viral, District Magistrate Anurag Patel ordered a probe into the incident and - teacher incharge of the school and the supervisor at the gram panchayat was suspended.
On Monday, Uttar Pradesh Basic Education Minister Satish Dwivedi said he will look into the case against the reporter. "No action should be taken only for exposing corruption or bringing out the facts. If this has happened, I will take a look. I will have to get a report from the police department and then I will be able to tell you," he said.
In a video statement, Pawan Jaiswal has called the case against him "an attack on journalism". "A case has been filed against me because questions have been asked from the government officials. This is an attack on journalism. Everyone is welcome to verify the facts of the story," he said.
The Editors Guild of India condemned the state government's action on Monday and urged it to withdraw the case. It has also urged that the journalist is not harmed or harassed.
The action by the state government is in sharp contrast to its statement in the aftermath of the incident. "I ordered an inquiry and the incident was found to be true. Prima facie, it is the fault of the teacher incharge of the school and the supervisor at the gram panchayat. Both have been suspended," Anurag Patel, the top government officer in Mirzapur, had told NDTV, a day after the incident.