Nagpur, MAHARASHTRA — The Mumbai police have arrested two people including one ABP Majha news channel’s reporter Rahul Kulkarni for allegedly triggering a gathering of migrant workers at Mumbai’s Bandra railway station on April 14.
The gathering of stranded workers, who wanted to go home, was sparked — the police alleged — by a misleading news report produced by Kulkarni and aired on ABP Majha, the ABP media group’s Marathi channel. The report claimed railways was considering resuming services for stranded migrant workers but did not specify a date for when these services would resume.
Kulkarni, who is based in Osmanabad district of Maharashtra, has been booked under section 505B, 269, 270, 188 and 117 of the Indian Penal Code along with section 3 of Epidemic Diseases Act 1897.
“He has been called to Mumbai for questioning. The decision to arrest him or not will be taken later on,” Mumbai police spokesperson DCP Pranay Ashok told HuffPost India earlier in the day.
But the channel ran a report in evening admitting that its reporter had been arrested on the allegations of causing the gathering of migrants at Bandra station.
When asked if there will be action against the news channel, a government official based in Mumbai said, “ We can’t rule that out.” A separate FIR has been lodged against 700 unidentified people for crowding during the lockdown.
The channel also faced flak on social media with many demanding that it be banned.
ABP Majha’s editor Rajiv Khandekar did not respond to multiple calls and messages from HuffPost India.
Separately, Vinay Dubey, a resident of Navi Mumbai, was arrested late on the night of April 14 for allegedly posting a video appealing migrant workers to gather at a railway station in Mumbai.
On April 14, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that India’s national lockdown to tackle the transmission of the novel coronavirus would be extended until May 3, 2020. The same morning, ABP Majha carried a news report that suggested train services are likely to resume to transport migrant workers back to their home states. Later on April 14, migrant workers gathered at Bandra station.
Maharashtra cabinet minister Nawab Malik tweeted a video of ABP Majha’s story and claimed that it might have triggered the crowding at the Bandra railway station. Shiv Sena spokesperson Priyanka Chaturvedi also tweeted the ABP Majha report and said, “Their Marathi channel runs the story in the morning. Their national channel reports the chaos in the evening. Understand the chronology.”
Hundreds of thousands of largely destitute migrant workers have been stranded across the country since March 24, when Prime Minister Modi announced India’s first lockdown. The day after his first announcement, large groups of workers took to the streets across the country in a desperate bid to make it home. Their plight embarrassed the government and revived a familiar criticism of Modi’s penchant for making grand announcements without planning for the consequences. In court, the government blamed the chaos following the Prime Minister’s March 24 address on fake news, rather than poor planning — but provided no evidence to support their claim.
Rahul Kulkarni, the ABP Majha journalist, told HuffPost India on Tuesday that he had based his story on a letter of the south-central railway. He subsequently tweeted a copy of that letter, which asks railway divisions to assess the number of stranded migrants but makes no mention of when the train service will be resumed. HuffPost India has not independently verified the authenticity of this letter.
Kulkarni also shared a Times of India news article on his Facebook account claiming that the Times of India had already carried this news which he reported on Tuesday. But this particular report does not mention the resumption of train services.
A Mumbai police officer said the police was also investigating a possible conspiracy to mislead migrant workers into gathering at Bandra station at a time when the entire country is in lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.