Monday, Aug 12, 2002
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By Manas Dasgupta
The State authorities were baffled why the CEC, J. M. Lyngdoh, and the two Election Commissioners, T. S. Krishnamurthy, and B. B. Tandon, decided to visit the State even after sending a nine-member fact-finding team. Now they are equally unnerved over Dr. Kalam's desire for an interaction with the riot victims in some relief camps.
Apparently enraged over Mr. Lyngdoh's reprimand of the Vadodara Collector and other officials in full view of the media, the authorities have taken the short cut ban the media from covering the President's visit to sensitive relief camps.
Of the four places Dr. Kalam is due to visit in Ahmedabad, the media would be allowed to cover the Sabarmati Ashram, where he would pay tributes to the Father of the Nation, and Naroda-Patiya where about 90 persons were burnt alive during the riots. In none of the places is the President expected to do any talking and the media would be kept at a distance "for security reasons".
The media would not be allowed when the President visits two most sensitive points the Haj House relief camp in the congested Kalupur locality and the riot widows' camp at Juhapura where he is expected to interact with the riot victims with the Government officials readily available on hand to reply if he raised any query. The media has also not been informed about the time he is expected to visit the house of his "guru", Vikram Sarabhai.
An official said that initially the plan was not to allow the media to any of Dr. Kalam's functions. The idea was to allow only photographers and cameramen at the Sabarmati and Naroda functions. However, after strong protests from the media, the two functions had been opened for the correspondents.
``The controversy is totally uncalled for, we had to stop the media at the relief camps purely from the logistic point of view,'' said Anil Mukim, secretary to the Chief Minister and the Information Department.
According to him, the entrance to the relief camps and the space inside are too small to accommodate the large number of mediapersons.
"We cannot ignore the President's security nor the need for the presence of necessary Government staff. There is no space left for the media".
Mr. Mukim said that cameramen of the official media would be present and all channels and newspapers would be allowed to take footage from it.
"We are allowing the media at the two other sites where space is available as well as at his functions in the Kutch visiting some earthquake-rehabilitation sites on Tuesday and there is no justification for the media to raise any controversy over it,'' he said.
Though located in a congested area near the Ahmedabad main railway station, the Haj House is a seven-storeyed building with 60 rooms where some 1,200 riot victims have been shifted from different areas after the State Government closed down the make-shift camps last month at the onset of monsoon. The space available outside the relief camp in Juhapura is also adequate to accommodate the media.
The two sites as well as Naroda-Patiya, meanwhile, are undergoing a face-lift. S.M.H. Bukhari, chief co-ordinator of relief operations, who has been put in-charge of the Haj House during the Presidential visit, however, claimed that no efforts were being made to "tutor" the victims.
"We have not structured the President's visit. It will be left to Dr. Kalam to decide whom he wants to talk to. They will be free to answer what they want to, we are not trying to teach anyone what replies they should give,'' he said.
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