The Supreme Court on Monday sought a reply from the Centre and Uttar Pradesh government on a petition seeking a CBI probe into the death of a social media journalist amid allegations he was burnt alive by police at the behest of a minister.
Jagendra Singh’s death triggered nationwide outrage and set off a debate on the safety of journalists in India, consistently rated by independent agencies as one of the most dangerous countries for media workers.
A reporter from Madhya Pradesh was allegedly murdered by the mining mafia while four journalists alleged physical assault in separate incidents recorded in Uttar Pradesh, Assam and Jammu and Kashmir this month.
The top court ordered authorities to respond to its notice within two weeks following the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) that said Uttar Pradesh police made no arrests after Singh’s death and were likely to “destroy evidence”.
A video of Singh’s final moments sent shock waves across India after he said in his dying declaration he was set ablaze by local police personnel for publishing allegations of corruption and land grab against state minister Ram Murti Singh Verma.
“On 1 June, according to his family members, a group of policemen and goons came in two cars in late afternoon and barged into his house in Shahjahanpur,” the petition said. “Initially, they had an argument with him reminding him he had been repeatedly told not to write anything about Verma; then they pinned him down, poured petrol on him and set him on fire.”
Singh’s family met chief minister Akhilesh Yadav on Monday who announced a compensation of Rs 30 lakh and promised government jobs to the journalist’s two children, while his wife and daughter remained on a sit-in for the ninth day.
The court’s order came on a day a forensic report based on a “reconstruction” of the incident indicated that Singh immolated himself.
Authorities registered an FIR against Verma and five police personnel based on a complaint from Singh’s son after the journalist passed away during treatment at a Lucknow hospital this month.
“Safety of Indian journalists has long been compromised, particularly in small towns where local authorities can wield enormous power,” the PIL said.
According to the Press Council of India, a statutory press watchdog group, 79 journalists were murdered in the past two and a half decades in the country, with very few convictions.