Jammu and Kashmir Estates Department today sealed the office of Kashmir Times in Srinagar that was allotted to it in a government building in Press Enclave that houses several other newspaper offices in similar buildings.
The office was sealed late this afternoon without serving any cancellation or eviction notice to Kashmir Times or following any due process of law. Nothing in writing was given to the publication. The Estates Department also did not give any reasons for the government action. The newspaper owners said that no notice of cancellation or eviction was served on them and “nothing in writing” was given to them.
The Estates Department employees who came to the office to lock it out told the Kashmir Times staffers working inside to move out. When the Kashmir Times management asked for the orders, the Estates Department officials said that they had no orders and asked them to approach the senior officers instead.
Soon after the news of the sealing of the Kashmir Times building, the social media was abuzz with condemnations by media persons, readers and well-wishers.
Former chief minister Omar Abdullah tweeted, “This explains why some of our “esteemed” publications have decided to become Government mouthpieces, printing only government press handouts. The price of independent reportage is to be evicted without due process.”
Former chief minister Mehbboba Mufti retweeted the tweet of Kashmir Times Executive Editor, Anuradha Bhasin and quoted, “Anuradha was one of the few local newspaper editors in J&K who stood upto GOIs illegal & disruptive actions in the state. Shutting down her office in Srinagar is straight out of BJPs vendetta playbook to settle scores with those who dare to disagree.”
Our office in Srinagar was locked without any due process of law. No notice — whether of cancellation or eviction — was served to us, The Kashmir Times owner Anuradha Bhasin told PTI over phone.
Bhasin said they had heard murmurs about the government planning to evict them from the building at the Press Enclave a month back, but there was no formal communication from the Estates Department.
We had approached the Estates Department and asked them to please serve us the order, but they gave us nothing. Then we approached the court, but no order has been given even there, she said.
She said the locking up of the Srinagar office of the newspaper was something similar to her recent eviction from a flat in Jammu.
“The government has the right to evict an allottee, but there is a certain criteria and they have to follow the due process,” she said.
However, the due process has not been followed in my particular case, she added.
Ms. Bhasin termed the move as “vendetta” against her “for speaking out against the government and moving the Supreme Court against media restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir after the Centre abrogated Article 370 in August last year.
The day I went to court last year, that very day, the state government advertisements to Kashmir Times were stopped, she said.
Earlier this month executive editor of Kashmir Times, Anuradha Bhasin alleged that her government-allotted flat in Jammu was ransacked by few “goons” at around 3 pm on October 4.
The alleged intruders were identified by Bhasin as Imran Ganai, brother of former Member of the Legislative Council (MLC) Shehnaz Ganai, along with some Personal Security Officers (PSO) in civil dress, who had barged into her house without giving any explanation.
Recalling the incident, Bhasin said that following her daily routine, she visited the flat and found that the lock was broken. Perplexed, she called few of her colleagues who helped her get inside the house.
“I kept asking them questions and they ignored me as if I don’t exist. While they were dumping my belongings into one room, breakable items were thrown around. We were being shoved, pushed and had to fight back in self-defence while one of them sprawled on my bed,” Bhasin told NewsClick. The journalist said that she called the police regarding the incident but they were reluctant to lodge a complaint.
According to Bhasin, she has been an authorised occupant of the government flat since 1999-2000. “Before me, the flat was allotted to my father in 1969. Both the allotments were done under the journalist category. I have not been served any show-cause notice or allotment cancellation notice till date.”
The senior journalist said that she had heard rumours from Estates Department insiders that the allotment of the government flat has been cancelled but no eviction notice or official order was sent to her. “I sent a legal notice to know about the status of the allotment and seek the grounds on which the allotment was being cancelled through speed-post. There has been no response till date,” said Bhasin.
Bhasin said that she had heard similar rumours from the inside sources regarding the government accommodation in which the Kashmir Times office is located in Srinagar’s Press Enclave. “I have not received any cancellation notice or any sort of notice yet. I have, again, sent a legal notice, but there has been no response. They refuse to serve us official orders but are sending in goons,” she said.
Kashmir Times had last year filed a petition in the Supreme Court through executive editor Anuradha Bhasin against the media blockade and internet shutdown in Jammu and Kashmir after the abrogation Article 370. In the petition, Kashmir Times had asked the SC to direct the central government to relax the restrictions in order to ensure freedom of movement of journalists and media personnel in Kashmir and some districts of Jammu.
Bhasin said she saw the break-in incident as an attempt to silence her as she has been critical of the Centre and the policies of the state administration. “There is clearly a pattern. This is an open harassment but I want to say one thing – I am too strong to be cowed down,” she said.