The Karnataka Police on Tuesday booked Hindi news channel Aaj Tak’s Consulting Editor Sudhir Chaudhary for spreading misinformation about a commercial vehicle subsidy scheme for religious minorities, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

The journalist has been booked under Indian Penal Code Sections 505 (statements conducing to public mischief) and 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion).

The case was filed based on a complaint by an official of the Karnataka Minorities Development Corporation, The Indian Express reported. The chief editor of Aaj Tak and the channel’s organiser have also been named in the first information report.

On Monday, Chaudhary ran a show on the channel where he claimed that the Swavalambi Sarathi scheme by the Karnataka Minorities Development Corporation is not offered to Hindus. The scheme promises a subsidy of 50% or up to Rs 3 lakh to people from religious minorities with a household income less than Rs 4.5 lakh to purchase commercial vehicles.

Karnataka has classified Muslims, Christians, Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Parsis as religious minorities.

Chaudhary said that the Congress government had said that the scheme would be made available to those from the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, but so far no such notification had been released.

However, people from the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in Karnataka can also avail subsidies to buy electric vehicles under the scheme. Citizens from the two communities can also avail of similar benefits through the Airavatha Scheme, under which the government assists them in taking up work with cab aggregators. The scheme also provides for a subsidy of Rs 5 lakh to buy a light motor vehicle.

“The show claimed that the scheme meted injustice to poor Hindus in the state,” the first information report against Chaudhary stated. “[It] conspired to disturb communal harmony in the state.”

Following Chaudhary’s show, Karnataka minister Priyank Kharge accused him of spreading misinformation.

“The anchor of Aaj Tak is deliberately spreading misinformation on Government schemes which was first started by BJP MPs and is being amplified by sections of the media,” Kharge said. “This is deliberate and malicious, the government will be taking necessary legal action.”

Chaudhary questioned why a case under non-bailable sections was filed against him for “asking a question”. He asserted, “I too am ready for this battle. We will meet in court now.”

Several Bharatiya Janata Party leaders had also questioned the Congress government in connection with the scheme last week.

Union minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar had termed the scheme an instance of “shameless bribing of a community by using public resources meant for all Kannadigas”.

On Wednesday, BJP’s youth wing chief Tejasvi Surya described the FIR against Chaudhary as a “witch hunt” and an assault on the freedom of the press.

“Whether its political opponents or independent media that asks uncomfortable questions, the Congress Govt [government] is going after everyone by abusing the law,” he wrote in a tweet.

However, Manoj Jain, Secretary to the Karnataka Minority Welfare Department, said that the scheme was in place before the Congress came to power. “The scheme was earlier for Rs. 2.5 lakh and it is now increased to Rs. 3 lakh under the Swavalambi Sarathi scheme,” he said, according to The News Minute.

On Wednesday morning, Kharge urged the Editors Guild of India to help in addressing journalists who intentionally mislead the public.

He asked: “Wouldn’t it be ideal if media organisations established their own in-house fact check units and exercised greater responsibility in their reporting? This way, there might be no need for government-led fact checking units.”

Last month, the Congress government in the state had approved the setting up of a fact-checking unit to crack down on fake news, phishing emails, and cyber crime. To this, the Editors Guild had said that the proposed unit should be independent of executive control to ensure that it does not become a tool “to clamp down on voices of dissent”.