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The curious case of Mumbai scribe's arrest

May 20, 2011 17:26 IST
The arrest of senior reporter Tarakant Dwivedi alias Akela, working with Mumbai-based tabloid Mid-Day, under the draconian Official Secrets Act by the Government Railway Police smacks of vindictiveness at the behest of the Railway Protection Force. What has now emerged is that the arrest under OSA was the result of overzealousness on the part of Police Inspector Pandarinath Yeram, the investigating officer attached to GRP, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus railway station.

Akela's expose:  On June 28, 2010, Akela, who was then employed with Mumbai Mirror, reported on how a leaking roof at the RPF armory was damaging expensive weapons procured after the 26/11 terror attacks. The report was supported by a photograph of rotting arms and ammunition.

The impact: Following the expose, the leaking roof was immediately repaired. It must be noted that when the city was besieged by terrorists on November 26, 2008, lack of weapons in working conditions prevented RPF and GRP personnel from offering resistance to terrorists at CST.

The legal tangle: A civilian, identified as Pradeep Sonthalia, apparently did not agree with the popular view and wanted Akela to be prosecuted for trespassing into the RPF armory and also violating the OSA. He reportedlyl approached the magistrate's court, which conceded that a case can be made out for trespassing. However, for invoking the OSA the court can take cognizance only when the complainant represents the government; Sonthalia, however, is a private citizen.

The First Information Report: GRP inspector Pandiranath Yeram wrote to Mid-Day's editor requesting the presence of Akela at the police station for recording a statement in the case. He was, however, arrested under Section 447 of the Indian Penal Code, which is a bailable offence and is punishable by fine or imprisonment. The accused under this section need not be produced before a court and the investigating officers are empowered to let the accused out on bail.

The volte-face: However, when Akela presented himself at the GRP police station on Tuesday night Yeram took him into custody and booked him under the OSA. Being a holiday on account of Buddha Purnima, he was produced before the magistrate the next day, where the public prosecutor explained how Akela's report has exposed the nation's arms and ammunition to the enemy. The court remanded Akela to three days of police custody.

What the GRP is saying now: GRP commissioner Tukaram Chavan sounded very apologetic when Maharashtra Home Minister R R Patil summoned him as a delegation of press reporters met them at the state government guest house Sahyadri. Chavan said he did not issue orders for Akela's arrest under the OSA. Later, speaking informally to reporters, Chavan also said that he did not approve of the arrest.

But the question remains: Why was the OSA used against the journalist, and at whose behest?

His other exposes: A senior journalist who has known Akela describes him as a very aggressive journalist who would follow up a story till it reaches its logical conclusion and would be personally involved in a story. He has been responsible for several reports exposing corruption in the RPF.

N Ganesh in Mumbai