The centre said there's no registered body called 'Kashmir Press Club'

New Delhi: Just weeks after taking over Kashmir Press Club, the centre told the Lok Sabha that there is no registered body by this name and the government does not subscribe to the view that there is lack of press freedom in the country. The World Press Freedom Index has ranked India in the 142nd position.

"Presently, there is no registered body by the name of 'Kashmir Press Club' or its elected managing body since Kashmir Press Club, as a registered body, has ceased to exist and has failed to register itself under the Societies Registration Act, 1860," Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai told the Lok Sabha.

According to the ministry, the Estates Department has taken over the government press club building in January in the presence of the executive magistrate of Srinagar.

Congress MP Manish Tewari had sought an explanation on whether the Jammu Kashmir Police and the Central Reserve Police Force had entered the premises of Kashmir Press Club without warrant and helped a hostile takeover.

"The government building has deployment of static guard for its protection," Mr Rai said, adding the centre is committed to ensuring the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19 of the Constitution.

"Press Council of India (PCI), a statutory autonomous body, has been set up under the Press Council Act, 1978 mainly to preserve the freedom of the press and improve the standards of newspapers and news agencies in the country," Mr Rai said in his written reply.

"PCI considers complaints filed 'by the press' concerning curtailment of press freedom, physical assault/attack on journalists etc under Section 13 of the Press Council Act 1978. PCI is also empowered to take suo motu cognisance in matters on the pressing issues concerning freedom of press and safeguarding of its high standards..." he said.

The Home Ministry had dismissed the World Press Freedom Index.

"This is published by a foreign non-government organisation, Reporters Without Borders. The government does not subscribe to its views and country rankings and does not agree to the conclusions drawn by this organisation for various reasons including very low sample size, little or no weightage to fundamentals of democracy, adoption of a methodology which is questionable and non-transparent, lack of clear definition of press freedom," the Home Ministry said.

On the issue of people arrested under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, or UAPA, the government cited data from the latest National Crime Records Bureau report. "The number of cases registered is 796, people arrested are 1,321, people acquitted are 116 and convicted are 80 under the UAPA in the country during 2020," the Home Ministry told the Lok Sabha.