New Delhi: A news piece published by the Times of India‘s Jaipur edition criticizing Modi government’s Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana on September 14, 2017 was taken down from the newspaper’s website within hours of publishing.
The story by Rosamma Thomas reported how the scheme, which was hailed as a “safety shield” for farmers, has turned out to be just another way of the government taking Rajasthan’s hapless farmers for a ride.
Launched in 2016, Modi government’s scheme has so far largely benefitted the insurance companies, which, thanks to high premiums and unpaid claims, logged profits of nearly Rs 10,000 crore till April, according to the office of the Comptroller and Auditor general (CAG) and the non-government Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).
“The deduction was made without warning. The bank had no clue about what I had sown. Moreover, Rs 1,718 has been deducted as “inspection charges” though no one came for inspection. To top it [all], the premium has been deducted when the crops were safe and beyond the risk period. My crop was uninsured for 80% of the crop cycle, when the risk was at the highest. The premium has now been deducted for the full period,” a farmer who cultivates cotton and guar in equal halves in his 15-bigha farm told TOI. In July 31 this year, Rs 7,827 was deducted from his SBI account as premium for crop insurance.
“We were not happy with the introduction in the story,” claimed Kunal Majumder, TOI‘s resident editor for Jaipur, even though the story was published in his edition and would have been added to the Jaipur bureau’s list of stories that form part of the ‘Times News Network’ (TNN) with his approval. When asked if TOI will carry a clarification or a correction, Majumder said, “This isn’t a normal procedure. We have sent a revised copy to Delhi. Waiting for them to approve it.”
Asked to clarify what he meant by “sent revised copy to Delhi”, he said that they were waiting for Ranjan Roy, who heads TNN, to approve the new draft.
When contacted, Roy claimed that he was unaware of any such incident and that “the TOI website had a life of its own”, implying that the decision to take down the story was taken by the online editors.
TOI.in, whose editor Prasad Sanyal quit a few months ago, is currently headed by Times Internet Limited’s Rajesh Kalra. Under his direction, staffers say, the website – India’s largest news portal – has become especially accommodating towards advisories and releases from the Prime Minister’s Office and the government’s Press and Information Bureau.
Since Kalra took over TOI.in in 2014, the website’s editors have been unofficially asked to play up positive stories about the government. Former and current employees, who wished to remain anonymous, recalled multiple instances when they were asked to ‘drop stories critical of the government from the homepage, section landing pages and social media’. On some occasions requests were also made to the SEO team to ‘deindex’ stories so that they don’t show up in Google search.
“We were often provided data sourced from government to write positive stories, which were later promoted on the website,” said a former employee. Asked why the crop insurance story had been taken down, Kalra too declined to comment.
(Source: The Wire)