The Kashmir Press Club has 'ceased to exist', the Jammu and Kashmir administration said on Monday as it took back the premises allotted to the largest journalists' body in the Valley following 'dissensions' between two factions, one of which had tacit support from the government.
The administration -- which has been facing flak on the issue with the Editors Guild of India terming the events a 'coup' and a continuing trend to smother press freedom -- cited 'unpleasant developments and dissensions between various groups of journalists' as the reason for the takeover of the premises in Srinagar's high street Polo Ground area.
'...it has been decided that the allotment of the premises at Polo View to the now-deregistered Kashmir Press Club be canceled and the control of land and buildings situated at Polo View, Srinagar which belong to the Estates Department be reverted to the said department,' an official spokesperson announced in a statement.
The administration said it was concerned over the situation that had arisen due to the 'unpleasant turn' of events involving two warring groups using the banner of the Kashmir Press Club.
Things came to a boil on Saturday (January 15) when a group of journalists accompanied by policemen armed with assault rifle reached the club claiming to be its 'new interim management'.
This was a day after the administration had put KPC's registration 'in abeyance'.
The journalists released a statement stating that 'some journalist forums' had chosen them to be new office-bearers, a claim contested by nine journalist associations from the Valley.
'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 14 July 2021, the date on which its tenure came to an end,' the administration said on Monday.
However, it sidestepped the fact that the KPC had been issued a re-registration certificate on December 29, 2021. This was subsequently placed under abeyance citing police verification on January 14.
After re-registering the KPC, the Registrar of Societies, Jammu and Kashmir, had said on January 14 said the office of the Senior Superintendent of Police, CID, has put on hold the non-involvement and verification of character and antecedent certificates of the members of the managing body of the KPC.
'The re-registration granted (to the KPC) on December 29, 2021 is hereby kept in abeyance till the receipt of final report from additional district magistrate, Srinagar,' the order read.
On Monday, however, the government said, '... 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 false portrayal of being owner-managers of an entity which is no longer in legal vogue.'
It said some other members have created an interim body using the same banner suggesting a 'takeover'.
'However, since the original KPC itself has ceased to exist as a registered body, the question of any interim body is rendered infructuous. In these circumstances, issuing of notices and communication by any group using the rubric of erstwhile Kashmir Press Club is illegal,' it added.
The administration also said rival groups had also been leveling allegations against each other.
'In view of this aspect of the dispute and in view of the reports in social media and other sources indicating a potential law and order situation including a threat of breach of peace and the safety of bona fide journalists, an intervention has become necessary,' it said.
The administration said it is committed to a free and fair press and believes that journalists are entitled to all facilities, including a place for professional, educational, social, cultural, recreational and welfare activities.
The government "also hopes that a duly registered bona fide society of all journalists shall be constituted as soon as possible and the same shall be able to approach the government for reallocation of the premises".
The ousted managing body of the Kashmir Press Club said the installation of a group of journalists as an interim body was done with the ultimate goal of shutting down the club.
Ishfaq Tantray, general secretary of the ousted body, said in a statement, '...it is our firm belief that our journalists are capable and professional enough to keep the flame glowing and confront these challenges ahead. I want to reiterate that journalism thrived in Kashmir and it will survive all crests and troughs in the future as well.'
The Jammu and Kashmir administration had come under severe criticism after pictures showing armed policemen inside the KPC were circulated in the social media and posted on Twitter by former chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti.
In its statement, the Editors Guild of India termed the events a 'coup' and a continuing trend to smother press freedom in the union territory with the help of police who have been 'brazenly complicit' in it.
Janhastakshep, a Delhi-based social organisation, also issued a statement saying that journalists in Kashmir have vociferously condemned this takeover and demanded restoration of status quo ante.
The organisation in its statement requested other media guilds and associations to come together to struggle against the ongoing repression in Kashmir being implemented under the aegis of the central government and the increasing attacks on independent minded pro people journalists across the country.