Press Freedom

Journalist arrested in Chhattisgarh for posting comments on WhatsApp

Prabhat Singh is accused of making comments against Samajik Ekta Manch, a vigilante group with close links to Bastar police.

Around 5pm on Monday, a white-coloured Bolero was seen arriving in front of the office of Patrika newspaper in Dantewada in the South Bastar region of Chhattisgarh. Without any notice or warning, journalist Prabhat Singh was picked up by policemen in plainclothes.

Singh, who was missing for several hours, was produced in Jagdalpur court late Tuesday afternoon. The police booked him under section 297 of the Indian Penal Code and section 67 of the Information Technology Act, which is slapped for circulating obscene material. He was sent to judicial remand till March 30.

"The complaint was registered by Santosh Tiwari for allegedly making confrontational comments against some members of the Samajik Ekta Manch on WhatsApp," said Kshitij Dubey, Singh's lawyer. Tiwari used to be a ETV correspondent in the neighbouring Bijapur district.

Samajik Ekta Manch is the same vigilante group that had protested outside the house of Scroll.in contributor Malini Subramaniam in Jagdalpur. Hours later, stones were hurled at the house. Subramaniam left the town, in the face of relentless intimidation. As Caravan magazine reported, Samajik Ekta Manch has close ties with Bastar police.

Apart from the case under the IT act, three other cases of forgery and cheating have been lodged against Singh. He reportedly told his brother Vishnu Singh that he was beaten up by the police all night long and was not given any food.

In the line of fire

Singh reports for Patrika, a Hindi daily owned by the Rajasthan Patrika Group. Two months ago, he had also begun to work for the news channel ETV. It is common for journalists in the region to work as stringers for more than one media outlet.

Two days before he was arrested, Singh was served a termination letter by ETV. No reasons were offered in the termination letter. ETV editors were unavailable for comment.

Journalists who know Singh believe his work has made him a target of the police and its supporters. In the past three months, Singh has written about the attack on social activist Soni Sori and the subsequent harassment of her family members. He has also reported on several alleged fake encounters in the region.

“Prabhat was one of the few people who ensured balanced reportage from Bastar,” said a journalist who did not want to be named for the fear of being targeted by the authorities. “His reports were critical of the high-handedness of the police and the suffocating environment created in the region for journalists,” the journalist added.

On March 1, Singh had sent a written complaint to Dantewada police against the members of Samajik Ekta Manch. In the letter, Singh said Mahesh Rao, Subba Rao and Farooq Ali of the Samajik Ekta Manch had called him "anti-national" on a group chat on the messaging service WhatsApp, defaming him among the journalist community in Bastar. Both journalists and members of the vigilante group were part of the chat. Singh's complaint was accepted by the police on March 6.

After Singh was arrested on Tuesday, it emerged that another journalist Santosh Tiwari had filed a complaint against him on March 5, relating to the same WhatsApp chat.

Press Freedom

Journalists in the state have been seeking a law that will ensure their independence and security while reporting from Maoist conflict-affected region of Bastar. Singh had played a vital role in organising protests and discussions for the drafting and implementation of such a law.

Singh is the third journalist to be arrested in Bastar in less than ten months. Three large protests have been organised by journalists in Chhattisgarh, calling for the release of two journalists Somaru Nag and Santosh Yadav. Nag was arrested in July 2015, and Yadav was arrested two months later. Since Nag and Yadav were stringers for several publications and Nag had other businesses, the police had questioned if they were journalists at all. But Singh has been a full-time journalist for well-known media outlets.

According to several reports, at a press conference in Raipur on February 20, the inspector general of police in Bastar, Shiv Ram Prasad Kalluri, was quoted as saying: “We don’t care about the national media. You have a different way of looking at things. We work with the media in Bastar, that sits with us, eats with us, and comes in helicopters with us.”

“Singh was anything but that,” said a journalist in Bastar. “He maintained his distance from the authorities so he could be objective while reporting on them.”

This story has been updated at 9.15 pm.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

How sustainable farming practices can secure India's food for the future

India is home to 15% of the world’s undernourished population.

Food security is a pressing problem in India and in the world. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), it is estimated that over 190 million people go hungry every day in the country.

Evidence for India’s food challenge can be found in the fact that the yield per hectare of rice, one of India’s principal crops, is 2177 kgs per hectare, lagging behind countries such as China and Brazil that have yield rates of 4263 kgs/hectare and 3265 kgs/hectare respectively. The cereal yield per hectare in the country is also 2,981 kgs per hectare, lagging far behind countries such as China, Japan and the US.

The slow growth of agricultural production in India can be attributed to an inefficient rural transport system, lack of awareness about the treatment of crops, limited access to modern farming technology and the shrinking agricultural land due to urbanization. Add to that, an irregular monsoon and the fact that 63% of agricultural land is dependent on rainfall further increase the difficulties we face.

Despite these odds, there is huge potential for India to increase its agricultural productivity to meet the food requirements of its growing population.

The good news is that experience in India and other countries shows that the adoption of sustainable farming practices can increase both productivity and reduce ecological harm.

Sustainable agriculture techniques enable higher resource efficiency – they help produce greater agricultural output while using lesser land, water and energy, ensuring profitability for the farmer. These essentially include methods that, among other things, protect and enhance the crops and the soil, improve water absorption and use efficient seed treatments. While Indian farmers have traditionally followed these principles, new technology now makes them more effective.

For example, for soil enhancement, certified biodegradable mulch films are now available. A mulch film is a layer of protective material applied to soil to conserve moisture and fertility. Most mulch films used in agriculture today are made of polyethylene (PE), which has the unwanted overhead of disposal. It is a labour intensive and time-consuming process to remove the PE mulch film after usage. If not done, it affects soil quality and hence, crop yield. An independently certified biodegradable mulch film, on the other hand, is directly absorbed by the microorganisms in the soil. It conserves the soil properties, eliminates soil contamination, and saves the labor cost that comes with PE mulch films.

The other perpetual challenge for India’s farms is the availability of water. Many food crops like rice and sugarcane have a high-water requirement. In a country like India, where majority of the agricultural land is rain-fed, low rainfall years can wreak havoc for crops and cause a slew of other problems - a surge in crop prices and a reduction in access to essential food items. Again, Indian farmers have long experience in water conservation that can now be enhanced through technology.

Seeds can now be treated with enhancements that help them improve their root systems. This leads to more efficient water absorption.

In addition to soil and water management, the third big factor, better seed treatment, can also significantly improve crop health and boost productivity. These solutions include application of fungicides and insecticides that protect the seed from unwanted fungi and parasites that can damage crops or hinder growth, and increase productivity.

While sustainable agriculture through soil, water and seed management can increase crop yields, an efficient warehousing and distribution system is also necessary to ensure that the output reaches the consumers. According to a study by CIPHET, Indian government’s harvest-research body, up to 67 million tons of food get wasted every year — a quantity equivalent to that consumed by the entire state of Bihar in a year. Perishables, such as fruits and vegetables, end up rotting in store houses or during transportation due to pests, erratic weather and the lack of modern storage facilities. In fact, simply bringing down food wastage and increasing the efficiency in distribution alone can significantly help improve food security. Innovations such as special tarpaulins, that keep perishables cool during transit, and more efficient insulation solutions can reduce rotting and reduce energy usage in cold storage.

Thus, all three aspects — production, storage, and distribution — need to be optimized if India is to feed its ever-growing population.

One company working to drive increased sustainability down the entire agriculture value chain is BASF. For example, the company offers cutting edge seed treatments that protect crops from disease and provide plant health benefits such as enhanced vitality and better tolerance for stress and cold. In addition, BASF has developed a biodegradable mulch film from its ecovio® bioplastic that is certified compostable – meaning farmers can reap the benefits of better soil without risk of contamination or increased labor costs. These and more of the company’s innovations are helping farmers in India achieve higher and more sustainable yields.

Of course, products are only one part of the solution. The company also recognizes the importance of training farmers in sustainable farming practices and in the safe use of its products. To this end, BASF engaged in a widespread farmer outreach program called Samruddhi from 2007 to 2014. Their ‘Suraksha Hamesha’ (safety always) program reached over 23,000 farmers and 4,000 spray men across India in 2016 alone. In addition to training, the company also offers a ‘Sanrakshan® Kit’ to farmers that includes personal protection tools and equipment. All these efforts serve to spread awareness about the sustainable and responsible use of crop protection products – ensuring that farmers stay safe while producing good quality food.

Interested in learning more about BASF’s work in sustainable agriculture? See here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.