“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.