The finance ministry has put in place restrictions on the entry of media persons into North Block, allowing access to only those accredited journalists who have a prior appointment with an official.
A clarification issued by the office of Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that a procedure has been put in place for "streamlining and facilitating" the entry of media persons inside the ministry of finance and "no ban is in place" on the entry of media persons in the ministry.
As precedence, North Block, the seat of the finance ministry, has only been out of bounds for journalists during the pre-budget quarantine period for about two months.
However, even after the presentation of 2019-20 Budget on July 5, 2019, security personnel manning the gates of the finance ministry are not allowing the entry of journalists, without appointment, even the Press Information Bureau-accredited ones.
The officers of Central Industrial Security Force, which guards the ministry, are allowing entry of journalists only if a finance ministry official sends a written note giving name(s) of the media person to them for the purpose of entry.
Amid concerns among reporters and backlash in social media, the office of Nirmala Sitharaman tweeted a statement clarifying her Ministry's position "on media reports alleging that media persons have been banned from entering the Ministry of Finance".
"Entry of media persons, including those holding PIB Accredited card, will be on the basis of prior appointment. No other restrictions have been imposed on their entry inside MOF. North Block. The media persons can seek an appointment with the officer/s to meet them. Media persons holding a PIB card will not require a separate entry pass after the appointment is fixed," the clarification said.
"This is to clarify that no ban is in place. on the entry of media persons in Ministry of Finance. North Block... These procedures are part of overall efforts being made by the ministry to make reporting for media persons hassle free and convenient," it added.
Senior journalists, including editors of various media organisations, sought time for a meeting with the Finance Minister to raise their concerns, but the meeting took place outside the finance ministry building.
During the quarantine period last month, a separate waiting area was earmarked outside the finance ministry for media persons.
The clarification further said that "the journalists in their very first meeting had requested the Finance Minister to allot them a separate waiting room to make their reporting hassle free and convenient. It was also pointed out that lack of a separate room forced them to wait in the corridors to meet the officials.
"As per the directions of the Hon'ble FM adequate arrangements have been made for media persons outside Gate no.2, North Block in the form of an air-conditioned waiting room where. at regular intervals, water, tea. coffee etc. are being provided. Facilities for comfortable seating and charging of electronic equipment have also been provided".