Curtains come down on 4-year old Kashmir Press Club

KT NEWS SERVICE. Dated: 1/17/2022 10:06:42 PM

*‘Ceases to exist’, declares J&K govt, takes control of premises

SRINAGAR, Jan 17: The Jammu and Kashmir government today decided to hand over the control of premises of Kashmir Press Club (KPC) premises including building and land back to the Estates Department and also declared that the KPC “ceases to exist”.
Curtains have, thus, come down on the Kashmir Press Club that was inaugurated in January 2018 after years of struggle, exactly four years after it came into being.
According to a statement, a spokesperson said that the government is concerned over the emergent situation which has arisen due to the unpleasant turn of events involving two rival warring groups using the banner of the Kashmir Press Club.
"The factual position is that KPC as a registered body has ceased to exist and its managing body too has come to a legal closure on 14 July 2021, the date on which its tenure came to an end. In its failure to register itself under the central Societies of Registration Act, further compounded by its failure to hold elections to constitute a new managing body, some individuals of the erstwhile club have been committing illegalities on several counts, least of which are false portrayal of being owner-managers of an entity which is no longer in legal vogue," it reads.
As per the statement, meanwhile, some other members have created an interim body using the same banner suggesting a ‘takeover’. "However, since the original KPC itself has ceased to exist as registered body, the question of any interim body is rendered infructuous. In these circumstances, issuing of notices and communication by any group using the rubric of erstwhile Kashmir Press Club is illegal."
It states that the rival groups have been leveling various allegations against each other also with regard to the use of the premises belonging to the estates department that was being used for the legitimate use of the members of the journalistic fraternity.
"In view of this aspect of the dispute and in view of the reports in social media and other sources indicating a potential law and order situation including a threat of breach of peace and the safety of bona fide journalists, an intervention has become necessary."
The statement reads that in view of the unpleasant developments and dissensions between various groups of journalists, it has been decided that the allotment of the premises at Polo View in view of the now deregistered Kashmir Press Club be cancelled and control of land and buildings situated at Polo View Srinagar which belongs to the Estates Department be reverted back to the said Department.
It added that “the government is committed to a free and fair press and believes that journalists are entitled to all facilities, including a place for professional, educational, social, cultural, recreational and welfare activities”.
The statement reads that it also hopes that a duly registered bona fide society of all journalists shall be constituted as soon as possible and the same shall be able to approach the government for reallocation of the premises.
Saturday Drama
The KPC was dramatically “taken-over” by a group of journalists led by Saleem Pandit on January 15, who said their move was necessitated because the club was "not functioning properly".
Ever since, the club premises have been out of bounds for the professional journalists as big padlocks were put outside the gates on Sunday morning.
The KPC members and nine other journalist associations, however, alleged that the armed police were backing the group of journalists and no due course was taken during the takeover.
Shuja-ul-Haq, ex-president of the KPC, said that the elections were delayed last year after a government notice asked the club to re-register under the Union Territory laws.
The club was issued fresh registration on December 29, 2021 only to be put in abeyance by the Registrar of Societies on January 14, citing the Senior Superintendent of Police, Criminal Investigation Department, report that put the mandatory verification process of the elected-members on hold.
The “take-over” of the Press Club and its final closure has been widely condemned by journalistic fraternity across the country in the last two days.
Editors Guild of India
The Editors Guild of India said it is aghast at the manner in which the office and the management of Kashmir Press Club, the largest journalists’ association in the Valley, was forcibly taken over by a group of journalists with the help of armed policemen on January 15, 2022.
In the statement, the Guild said that “the arbitrary order of putting the registration of the Kashmir Press Club “in abeyance”, a day before this armed take-over of the Club, on January 14, 2022, by the Registrar of Societies” is “alarming”. The Club had been issued a fresh “re-registration” as recently as December 29, 2021 following a long process of verification of an application made by them in May 2021, in response to public notices issued by the Registrar.
“The Club was under an interim management after the ‘re-registration’, and had on January 13, 2022 announced an election date of February 15, 2022, to elect a new management body as well as the executive committee. The armed takeover has effectively scuttled this rule based functioning of the Club. Even more disturbingly, the state police entered the premises without any due warrant or paperwork, and have therefore been brazenly complicit in this coup, in which a group of people have become self-declared management of the Club,” the Guild statement added.
It further added that this violation of the sanctity of the club by the police and the local administration is a manifestation of the continuing trend to smother press freedom in the state. Just recently, Sajad Gul, a young journalist was arrested for merely posting a video on social media, which showed a family protesting against the Indian government.
Editors Guild demanded the immediate restoration of the status quo before this hostile takeover, announcement of elections to appoint a new management body and executive council, and strict prohibitions on any armed forces from interfering with the functioning of the Club, without due legal sanction. The Guild further demanded an independent inquiry as to how armed forces entered the Club premises.
Mumbai Press Club
The Mumbai Press Club (MPC) condemned the "forcible takeover of the Kashmir Press Club (KPC) from the legally elected management body in conjunction with security forces" on Saturday.
"The MPC also deplores the Jammu & Kashmir administration for scuttling the Club's election process the previous day, Friday, 14th January, by holding in abeyance' the registration of the Kashmir Club, which is registered under the Societies Act, 1860," it said in a statement.
On December 29, the club’s registration was issued following which it was decided to initiate the process of fresh elections, but all of a sudden, a group of journalists, including some non-members, approached the administration with a proposal for an “interim body” and subsequently the re-registration was kept in abeyance.
MPC said the order "effectively has put the entire 300-member journalist body in cold storage and negated the democratically called election process". "This being not enough, the next day, Saturday, 15th January, using the Covid lockdown announced for Srinagar, a group of journalists barged into the Press Club premises in the Polo View area and declared themselves to be an 'interim' body. The group who trespassed into the club premises were protected by the J&K Police,” it said.
"Significantly, the group that barged in and seized the club had lost the elections in 2019. This indeed beats the imagination of how the local administration and police had blessed the trespass and takeover of the Kashmir Club on 15th January by a rival group, a day after the local government had frozen the organization through 'de-registration' on 14th January ''.
The MPC said, "the KPC went through a democratic process of elections in 2019 and has been representing the voice of independent journalism in the Kashmir Valley for some time. To dub those who are writing and reporting in a balanced manner as "anti-national' is a cause of concern, and to derail a legally registered body from holding its own election process smacks of autocracy and is a violation of the freedom of the press guaranteed under the Constitution".
The Mumbai Press Club has demanded that the registration of the Kashmir Press Club be restored "and that its legally elected body be allowed to conduct its election freely and fairly without threats and sans the shadow of the gun".
Delhi Union of Journalists
In statement, the Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) said it was dismayed at the “government move to close the Press Club of Kashmir.”
“Press Clubs everywhere are information hubs where journalists exchange information and views, enabling them to perform their jobs better. They are also places where journalists stop and rest between hectic deadlines, while they wait for the next interview, the next press briefing….. They are places to get an affordable meal and a drink and socialize with colleagues. Press Clubs therefore are invaluable for the profession. In Kashmir, where journalism is a tough, risky, dangerous profession, the Press Club has played a vital role,” read a statement, issued by DUJ.
The authorities had renewed the license of the Kashmir Press Club on December 29, 2021, after the issue had hung fire for months. Once the renewal notice was received the Press Club belatedly announced elections. Now the license renewal has been suddenly cancelled, ostensibly because of an adverse CID report. This volte face is inexplicable, it said,
“It is singularly unfortunate that a division seems to have been created within journalists, with a small faction ‘taking over’ the Club when Srinagar was under a lockdown. Police and paramilitary personnel were deployed during this process. Several associations of Kashmir journalists have signed a joint statement objecting to this ‘takeover’ of the premises.
“We also note that the arbitrary arrests, detentions and questioning of journalists in Kashmir continue unabated. On January 5, 2022 Sajad Gul, a trainee journalist with Kashmir Walla, was arrested for fomenting anti-government feelings. Last year Salman Shah and Suhail Dar were arrested for ‘breach of peace’. Journalist Aasif Sultan has been in jail since August 27, 2018 and awaits trial.
“We call for greater democracy and freedom of the press in Kashmir today. We view the developments in the Kashmir Press Club as one more reprehensible attempt to intimidate journalists. We demand immediate restoration of the Club to the duly elected office bearers and a renewal of the license. There must be no government interference in the running of a journalists’ club.”
Press Club of India
While expressing concern over the developments, the Press Club of India appealed to LG Manoj Sinha to look into the matter and facilitate elections.

The Press Club of India described Saturday’s happenings as an attempt to “deliberately derail the democratic process of holding elctions and throttle the body of journalists”. The journalists’ body said that the presence of police in the Kashmir Press Club premises was “highly condemnable and totally illegal”.
Indian Journalists Union
The Indian Journalists Union condemns the J&K Registrar of Society for putting in abeyance the Kashmir Press Club’s registration and the ‘forcible takeover’ of the Club by a group of journalists, aided by the J&K administration and the police. “The KPC,” said the Union, “has been vocal on media issues, sustained harassment and intimidation of journalists in the Valley and the twin actions smack of vendetta and brazen attempt to silence dissenting voices. The Union demands immediate restoration of the Club’s registration as a society and said that the elections should be held at the earliest.”
In a statement, IJU President and former Member of Press Council of India Geetartha Pathak and Secretary General and Vice President of International Federation of Journalists Sabina Inderjit said the hostile takeover by a group of journalists, ‘self-styled’ body, goes against democratic principles, is unconstitutional and smacks of an adamant administration hell bent on silencing media and institutions critical of its functioning and using the pandemic as an excuse to carry on its nefarious designs. “The Union demands from the L-G to inquire into the matter and ensure the KPC is allowed to function democratically,” the statement added.
The IJU in its National Executive Committee meeting held in Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh, on 12 January had in a Resolution expressed solidarity with its J&K journalist colleagues and demanded that the J&K administration desist from stifling press freedom in Kashmir.

 

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