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    When the media gets blunted

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    When the media gets blunted
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    The figures brought to light by Right to information activist Manoranjan S Roy demand an independent investigation into the real motivation behind the demonetization of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 currency notes announced by the Modi government on November 8, 2016 through extraordinary and extra-legal interventions.

    The information gathered from National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) corroborates the conclusions that it was not a move for cleansing the economy, checking counterfeit currency or eliminating terrorism, but the most dreadful act of corruption and laundering of black money ever witnessed by independent India. Ahmadabad District Cooperative Bank (ADCB), Gujarat in which BJP president Amit Shah is a director, has made the highest deposits (Rs 745.59 crore) in banned currency notes in five days of demonetisation. Rajkot District Co-operative Bank (RDCB) which has Gujarat Minister Jayesh Vitthalbhai Radadiya as the chairman comes right behind. Out of the Rs 22, 271 crore that came through the 370 district co-operative banks, Rs 14, 293 crore came from the states where BJP is in power. Of that, Rs 3, 118 crore came through 11 co-operative banks in Gujarat itself.

    NABARD justifies that the customers of the bank who deposited Rs 746 crore or exchanged the demonetized notes in five days was only about 15 per cent of the total deposits of ADCB and that there was ‘nothing unusual’ about it. However, even if one claims to be able to complete the transaction in 10 minutes in all the 190 branches of the bank (customers had spent hours before the bank for a transaction in those days), it is impossible to hand over the colossal amount of money to 1.60 lakh people in just five days. Even if more than five hundred cash counters are set up and they all function for 24 hours (according to reports, there are not that many counters), , it is not possible to count the Rs 746 crore deposits in the bank. The tale of Rs 4, 408 crore of banned notes that came through the 39 post offices is on top of that. Under the pretext that black money would be laundered through co-operative banks, the central government prohibited the transactions of co-operative banks across the country on the sixth day. But then, if within that time there have been transactions of such a huge amount, it can easily convince us that there was an underworld politics involving misuse of power and money-laundering.

    What is more shocking than the financial fraud is the approach followed by the mainstream media in India towards a grave and cogent corruption allegation that has surfaced with the support of official data. ‘Times Now’, ‘News 18’ which is owned by Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries and ‘First Post’ completely blacked out the news. ‘The New Indian Express’ removed the story later after publishing it. Majority of the channels did not even deem it to be a subject for primetime discussions. The explanation given by the owners of the mainstream media houses was that it lacked relevance since it was a natural process of databanks collected from NABARD, and that it was unfit for publishing because it constituted yellow journalism against Amit Shah. They conveniently forgot the fact that it is when the Reserve Bank has still been concealing the essential estimates as to how much money returned to the banks post demonetization, that such transparent data surfaced.

    In a way the work of India's mainstream media has got reduced to a public relations service of the central government. There is a steady increase in the number of stories unsavoury to the government and the sangh parivar dying natural death at the desks. The other day came the startling disclosure by journalist Niranjan Takle that it was when ‘The Week' refused to publish his investigative report about the mysterious death of Justice Loya, that he resigned from his job and passed the story to 'Caravan' magazine. The BJP MLA from Jammu & Kashmir, Chaudhary Lal Singh has now gone to the extent of warning journalists at a press meet that it would be safer for journalists to follow certain limits when publishing news events. If the media is not able to come out of intimidating behaviour and suicidal censorship, it will become all the easier for the rulers to hush up facts. The media will now on need both the vigilance to dissect the actions of governments freely and fearlessly, and the determination to use its strength against the government's attempts to blunt its pen. That is the lesson imparted by the experiences of Niranjan Takle and Manoranjan Roy.

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