The Full Lists of Journalists Who Benefitted from Exceptional Land Discounts by the Chauhan Government in Madhya Pradesh

Dinesh Gupta’s letter to the revenue department in February 2009 argued for the Abhivyakti society’s lease rent to be calculated using a land price of Rs 60 per square foot. Gupta explicitly cited the treatment of the judges’ society as a precedent. {{name}}
23 June, 2016

“Journalists are the most pampered set of people in this state,” a former officer of Madhya Pradesh’s revenue department told us in March, when we were reporting for the June cover story of this magazine.

The story focussed primarily on how, in 2007, a residential cooperative society of acting and retired judges leased land at a prime location in Bhopal at an unthinkably low rate—so low that the lease was almost a gift. Among the society’s members was Chandresh Bhushan, a retired high court judge who was later appointed to head a Special Investigation Team looking into the Vyapam scam. The exceptional discount—pricing the land at just Rs 60 per square foot, or about Rs 600 per square metre—had required the approval of the Madhya Pradesh cabinet, chaired by the state’s chief minister, Shivraj Singh Chauhan.

Since then, two more cooperative societies had been leased land at that same price—both formed by journalists working in the state. As in the case of the judges’ cooperative, these transactions were cleared by the cabinet, in August 2008. The Rajdhani Patrakar Grih Nirman Sahkari Samiti was allotted 11.6 acres close to Bhopal’s airport, and the Abhivyakti Grih Nirman Sahkari Samiti was given 6.3 acres in the Bawadia Kalan area. (At the time, the revenue department’s stipulated price for residential land in Bawadia Kalan was Rs 3,000 per square metre.)

In both cases, the administrative procedure hewed closely to that used for the judges’ society. In a letter he wrote to the revenue department in February 2009, Dinesh Gupta, the president of the Abhivyakti society, cited the treatment of the judges’ cooperative as a precedent to be applied for his society too.

Between them, the two journalists’ societies take in close to 300 people—99 in the Abhivyakti society, according to a members list from March 2012, and 208 in the Rajdhani Patrakar society, according to a members list from September 2013, with two individuals named in the lists of both. The lists include journalists who have worked for or contributed to numerous national media houses: Rasheed Kidwai, of The Telegraph; Hemender Sharma, of Times Now; Ashutosh Gupta, of Zee TV; Milind Ghatwai, of the Indian Express; Kumar Shakti Shekhar, earlier of NDTV, and now with Daily O; Mrigendra Singh, the editor of Dainik Jagran in Bhopal; Manish Sharma, formerly of Punjab Kesari; Praveen Dubey, formerly of News 24; Sandip Pouranik, of the Indo-Asian News Service; Brijesh Rajput, of ABP News; Deepak Tiwari, of The Week; Anurag Upadhyay, of India TV; Rakesh Dixit, formerly with DNA and the Hindustan Times and now a freelancer; Rajesh Sirothia, of Outlook and Agnibaan, a Madhya Pradesh daily; Manoj Kumar Sharma, of IBN7; and Deepti Chaurasia, of India News. Those named among both societies are Rajendra Sharma, the owner and editor of the Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh newspaper Swadesh; and Shureh Niazi, of India Today.

The Abhivyakti society also includes Rajiv Mohan Gupta, of the family that owns Dainik Jagran. Gupta lives in 74 Bungalow, one of Bhopal’s most exclusive areas, and his family owns an estate in the city that served as a set for the 2010 Bollywood movie Raajneeti.

We contacted all the journalists named in this story for comment. Shureh Niazi said he was previously a member of both societies, and claimed to have cancelled his membership in each. Rajendra Sharma denied that he was a member of either society, and said that any documents saying he was must have been forged. Rasheed Kidwai said he took his membership at a time when he did not own property, but had since bought a house and was looking to cancel it. Milind Ghatwai said he was a member, but that he would not be taking land. Ashutosh Gupta only said “You have wrong information” before he cut the call. All others simply acknowledged being members of their respective societies.

We went to meet Dinesh Gupta, the president of the Abhivyakti society, at his office in Patrakar Colony, in south Bhopal. Gupta is a small, balding, bespectacled man, with a sagging paunch. He brings out a Hindi monthly called Power Gallery, in which one would be hard-pressed to find a single byline other than his own. In our half-hour meeting, we raised numerous concerns surrounding journalistic ethics and likely conflicts of interest. Gupta lost his cool more than once. Most of his answers were off the record, but the contempt in his tone was unreserved.

The president of the Rajdhani Patrakar society is KD Sharma, a special correspondent with the Hindi daily Nai Dunia. He called us to his home in Tulsi Nagar, also in the south of the city, where he greeted us in a T-shirt that read “PR kiya to darna kya.” (Why fear if you’ve done PR?)

Sharma spoke at length about the Rajdhani Patrakar society, but denied getting any special discount for its land. He said that the idea of forming the society came up in 2007, after “a diktat came that all non-government personnel occupying government accommodations had to vacate them. There were a lot of journalists living in government quarters here—MP is one of the few states in the country that takes care of journalists. It was a tradition set by Arjun Singh”—the chief minister of the state from 1980 to 1985, and again between 1988 and 1989. At some point in 2007, “a group of journalists met Shivraj Singh Chouhan. It was good timing. The government was happy to oblige the press, since elections were coming up the next year.”

We asked Sharma the same questions on ethics we had asked Gupta. “Probably, yes, there is some conflict of interest if you really think about it,” he said, looking away. But, he added, “this is almost a tradition in the state.” To emphasise the point, he repeated it in Hindi. “Parampara hai.”

Below are the names of all the journalists listed as members of these societies.

Abhivyakti Grih Nirman Sahkari Samiti (March 2012)

Rajdhani Patrakar Grih Nirman Sahkari Samiti (September 2013)


This story resulted from a collaboration with Cobrapost. The full June 2016 cover story, ‘Law of the Land,’ is here.