The Jammu and Kashmir government on Monday took control of the building allotted to Kashmir Press Club after a group of journalists and newspaper owners accompanied by members of armed forces took over the association’s management on January 15.
The building was taken over by the government a day after it suspended the registration of the press club, citing adverse reports from the police’s Criminal Investigation Department. Before this, the Kashmir Press Club had announced it will hold elections to form new management and an executive committee on February 15.
In a statement on Monday, the government said, “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.”
The statement added that the press club and its elected managing body ceased to exist on July 14 when its term ended.
“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 [a] false portrayal of being owner-managers of an entity which is no longer in legal vogue,” the Jammu and Kashmir administration said.
On Saturday afternoon, the group of journalists that took over as interim management selected Saleem Pandit as the press club’s president. But, the government in its statement said since the registration of the association itself ceased to exist, any interim body is “rendered infructuous”.
It also said that the groups issuing notices and communication via “the rubric of erstwhile Kashmir Press Club is illegal”.
Ishfaq Tantry, elected general secretary of the Kashmir Press Club, on Monday said the “ultimate goal” of the Union Territory’s administration was to close the association. For this purpose, the group of journalists were “installed”, he alleged.
“By this action, they wanted to stifle the voice of journalists that resonated through the forum called Kashmir Press Club, the only democratic and independent journalist body in the Valley,” Tantry continued.
The general secretary expressed confidence that journalism will survive “all crests and troughs” in the future.
He also asked The Times of India and the Deccan Herald to clarify if they approved the action of their reporters in Srinagar, who he said were involved in a “military-style coup” of the Kashmir Press Club.
Pandit works with The Times of India and Zulfikar Majid, the bureau chief of the Deccan Herald was elected as the general secretary in the developments.
Meanwhile, journalist Muhammad Rafi said that as many as 40 journalists were waiting to access the club for work on Monday.
Several journalists’ bodies, including the Editors Guild of India, Press Club of India and Mumbai Press Club, on Sunday expressed shock over the Kashmir Press Club’s takeover. They sought restoration of the club’s registration as a society and early polls.
Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdulllah also described the developments as “state sponsored coup”.