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Government Intervenes ​in Chaos at Kashmir Press Club, Grants Control of Land to Estate Department

News18 logo News18 17-01-2022 Mufti Islah

Amid the ruckus over the locking of the Kashmir Press Club (KPC) on Sunday for a week, the government granted control of the land and building to the Estate Department.

The statement issued by the government said: “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.”

“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 said.

It said: “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. 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.”

At least nine journalistic bodies based in Kashmir and country’s major journalist associations namely the Editors Guild of India and Press Club of Mumbai flayed the “coup” and called it an “illegal takeover”.

The group headed by a senior journalist Saleem Pandit alleged the top bodies were lopsided as they did not “listen to their side of the story”.

The KPC, which is the biggest platform of more than 300 journalists, saw a coup of sorts, when Pandit and his group members stormed into the building on Saturday, taking over the reins. Journalists present at the club alleged they took control of the KPC stamps, stationery items and announced being the “interim body” and that they would run the day-to-day affairs of the club.

The group led by Pandit argued the term of the club’s first elected body came to an end in July 2021, but members continued to stay put illegally.

Ishfaq Tantray, who holds the position of club’s general secretary, said the elected members were ready to relinquish the club, but following the change of registration laws of the club in Jammu and Kashmir post ending of special status, they had moved an application with government to grant re-registration for the club.

“We did that in April when our term had not ended and were waiting for the same to announce fresh elections. In January first week, when re-registration was done (only to be suspended the next day), we had announced the date of elections. We didn’t want to hold on,” Tantray told News 18.

The process of re-registering the club with the Registrar, Societies and Firms, Kashmir, is a pre-requisite to hold fresh elections, he said, adding if it is not done, the club will become defunct. Following the repeal of Article 370, new laws have replaced the old ones under the J&K Reorganisation Act, 2019.

The administration on Friday had suspended the club’s re-registration (done last week) certificate following an adverse CID report, sparking allegations about government efforts to take control of the press that has been critical of its policies.

The Editors Guild of India slammed the interim body. (News18) © Provided by News18 The Editors Guild of India slammed the interim body. (News18)

Meanwhile, the Pandit-led group said in a statement the decision to lock the club on Sunday was taken after a member tested positive for Covid-19.

“The local police had approached the premises seeking implementation of the restrictions as issued by the District Magistrate Srinagar,” a statement issued by his group said.

The opposing journalistic bodies slammed the move to shut the club, saying this is to ward off the possible protests.

“The so-called interim body wants to resort to every illegal action that warrants it to take control of the club. They are backed by administration. On the day of seizing control, they came with police to complete a military style coup,” a senior journalist told News 18 on Sunday.

Tantray said the move was unwarranted, illegal and will set a bad precedent. He said being elected members, they had given the date for fresh elections to be held in February 2022. “The process got delayed because we had to wait for re-registration of the club which we did in April when we were enjoying the term as per the mandate,” he told News 18.

Tantray said many journalistic organisations on Sunday nominated a 13-member team that would work to seek re-registration which has been kept in abeyance, conduct fresh elections of the club and run the affairs.

Meanwhile, the Editors Guild of India slammed the interim body. “Guild is alarmed by an arbitrary (government) order of putting the registration of Kashmir Press Club in abeyance,” it said.

“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 statement said.

The guild demanded the “immediate restoration of the status quo, 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” besides an “independent inquiry as to how armed forces entered the Club premises”.

The Mumbai Press Club, in a statement, too hit out at the Jammu & Kashmir administration for scuttling the Club’s election process the previous day, Friday, January 14, by holding in abeyance the registration of the Kashmir Club, which is registered under the Societies Act, 1860.

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