As the feud between two factions of journalists took an ugly turn, the Jammu and Kashmir Government on Monday cancelled the allotment of the club and reverted the building to the Estates Department.
After years of efforts, Kashmir Press Club was formally thrown open at Polo View on January 8, 2018. The Estate Department had handed over a building for the Press Club.
"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 to the said department," an official the statement issued by administration read.
"The government is concerned over the emergent situation which has arisen due to the unpleasant turn of events involving two rival warring groups using the banner of the Kashmir Press Club", the government stated.
It said the factual position is that KPC as a registered body has ceased to exist and its managing body too has come to a legal closure on July 14, 2021, the date on which its tenure came to an end.
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 the false portrayal of being owners-managers of an entity which is no longer in legal vogue, it said.
Re-registration put in abeyance
Re-registration of the club was kept in abeyance on Friday by Registrar of Societies, Director Industries, and Commerce Kashmir on the basis after non-involvement and verification of character and antecedents of its members was put on hold.
As per the order issued by the Department, "This office has received an order issued by the Additional District Magistrate Srinagar wherein inter-alia, it has been informed that the non-involvement and verification of Character and Antecedents issued dated December 24, 2021, in respect of members of Managing Body of Kashmir Press Club Polo View Srinagar has been kept on hold, on the basis of the report received from SSP CID, J&K".
It reads that re-registration in favour of Kashmir Press Club dated December 29, 2021, has been granted in light of the Administrative Departments letter and on the basis of report of Non-Involvement and verification of Character and Antecedents as received from Additional District Magistrate Srinagar dated December 24, 2021.
"In view of the above-received communication, it is hereby ordered that the re-registration granted is hereby kept in abeyance till the receipt of the final report from Additional District Magistrate Srinagar," it reads.
A group of journalists formed an interim body
Claiming that club has been lying defunct, a group of journalists formed an interim body to run affairs of the Club.
"With the Kashmir Press Club being defunct for the last six months when the tenure of the previously elected body ended, a new interim body was elected on Saturday, January 15, 2022, with veteran journalist M Salim Pandit as the President. The three-member body also includes journalists Zufliqar Majid as the General Secretary and Arshad Rasool as the treasurer of the Club till the elections are held in a free and fair manner", the statement issued by this group reads.
"It is an open fact that the Kashmir Press Club at Poloview Srinagar was founded in 2018 with immense efforts of the Kashmir based journalists who had unanimously handed over the responsibilities of the Club to veteran journalist M Saleem Pandit, who works with The Times of India (ToI) as the founding President. With the passage of time, however, the Kashmir-based journalists held elections of its executive body on 15th July 2019. The elected body served its tenure for a period of two years, which ended on July 14, 2021. As the previous committee delayed the elections for unknown reasons the Club was headless, thereafter for around six months, putting media fraternity to unwanted trouble", the statement reads.
"The interim body besides running the day-to-day affairs of the Club will also be authorized to form a required executive body which will help the KPC to flourish and grow into a modern press club much in need with the growing requirements", the group claimed.
Rival group counters claims
The claims of the 'interim body' were countered soon by another faction in Kashmir who denounced this forcible takeover of the KPC office with "open support from the administration" and termed it a "coup".
This faction issued a statement to express anguish over the illegal and arbitrary takeover of the KPC by some journalists with open support from the local administration. "On January 15, the day when the administration had declared weekend lockdown in view of COVID surge, a group of journalists barged into the club office and forcibly took control of the club by keeping the office members hostage. A large number of police and paramilitary personnel were deployed beforehand for this highly condemnable and completely illegal move," the statement said.
Politicians jump into journalists' feud
Seizing the opportunity to criticize the government, politicians jumped into the controversy between two warring factions of journalists of Kashmir.
Former Chief Minister and vice president of National Conference Omar Abdullah termed it a "state-sponsored coup" and hit out at one of the journalists of the interim body, saying "there is no government this 'journalist' hasn't sucked up to and no government he hasn't lied on behalf of. I should know, I've seen both sides very closely. Now he's benefited from a state-sponsored coup.".
Former Chief Minister and PDP president Mehbooba Mufti tweeted "Government of India doesn't want a debate on the oppression unleashed in J&K. Deliberately delaying KPCs registration is an attempt to throttle real issues flagged by local journalists here. A free press is the fourth pillar of democracy but BJPs policies seek to undermine & demolish it completely".
"Today's state-sponsored coup at KPC would put the worst dictators to shame. State agencies here are too busy overthrowing elected bodies and firing govt employees instead of discharging their actual duties. Shame on those who aided & facilitated this coup against their own fraternity", she tweeted.
After years of effort, the press club was established in the year 2018
On January 8, 2018, Kashmir Press Club was opened at Polo View Srinagar. Scribes across cross-sections of media houses were assembled at the venue and celebrated on the occasion by wishing each other. Muhammad Salim Pandit was nominated as its founding president.
The formal orders of handing over of the building H-9B at Polo View were issued after a meeting of the president, Saleem Pandit, and then director information, Munir-ul-Islam with the then Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti.
The Press Club designated as "Aiwane-e-Sahafat" was the first such journalist-run place for media persons in Kashmir.
A small press club was functioning in Srinagar in earlier 1970 but in the late 1970s' the then government closed it down. Since 1970 journalists of Kashmir were demanding press club and this demand was fulfilled in 2018.