Karnataka channel off-air for airing graft news about CM, family

On Monday, police raided Power TV's office and the premises of its managing director Rakesh Shetty

BS Yediyurappa, Karnataka
It is believed that Chief Minister Y S Yediyurappa was under constant pressure from legislators within his party to create such boards and corporations so that they could head them as the state allocates considerable share in the state budget to these corporations.

In a stinging attack on media freedom, the BS Yediyurappa-led BJP government in Karnataka has forced shut a TV channel for airing news on corruption allegations against the chief minister and his family members.

On Monday (September 28), the state police raided the Power TV (Kannada) channel’s office and the premises of its managing director Rakesh Shetty. They allegedly forced the channel to shut down besides taking down its YouTube (now restored) and Facebook handles, the channel’s lead anchor and principal editor Rehman Hassan said in a post.

The channel has been airing news about the chief minister and his son receiving kickbacks from a private builder and even traced the money flow to the bank account of his son BS Vijayendra, grandson Shashidhar Maradi, and son-in-law Virupakshappa Maradi.

The channel alleged that Vijayendra demanded bribes from construction firm Ramalingam Construction Company Ltd (RCCL) to give accord to a government housing project worth ₹666 crore. In an audio clip aired by Power TV, it claims that Vijayendra is heard saying one of the officers received ₹12 crore bribe in the name of the CM and him.

The channel raised questions as to why the government did not file a complaint against the officer who received bribes in their name and rather stayed silent and let the money flow to their accounts. Over the past month, the channel ran a series of news shows that targeted Vijayendra for his alleged involvement in government affairs.

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Even as a section of BJP leaders wanted to dislodge Yediyurappa over the clout that his son enjoyed in the political circles; this corruption charge only strengthened their stand against the chief minister.

After the mining scam came to light during Yediyurappa’s previous tenure in 2011, the CM was arrested and it led to the downfall of the saffron party in the state. The new corruption allegations are yet again casting aspersions on his government as the opposition is leaving no stone unturned to target his government.

The Congress, meanwhile, went a step further and in a press conference, former CM Siddaramaiah, accompanied by the party’s national spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala, alleged that Vijayendra had demanded ₹17 crore, of which ₹7.4 crore was transferred through RTGS to Yediyurappa’s grandson, and the rest given as a cash deal to Virupakashappa (son-in-law of the CM) at his residence in Hubli.

Further accusing them of money laundering and doing hawala transactions, the Congress leaders said Vijayendra had transferred black money to seven shell companies in Kolkata – Remac Distributors, Sakambari Merchants, Strategic Vincom, Jagdamba Commodities Sales, Gan Nayak Commodities Trade, Navtech Creation and Rajgharana Sales between March and July this year. The money was in turn routed to the CM’s family members’ accounts, they alleged.

“This is prima facie a case of corruption, money laundering and criminal conspiracy. What are the officials of the Income Tax department and Enforcement Directorate, who often attack opposition party members, doing? The CM’s family is indulging in daylight robbery and the agencies should probe,” demanded Siddaramaiah, seeking Yediyurappa’s resignation.

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The Congress, which raised the issue during the ongoing monsoon session in the Assembly, even demanded a judicial probe into the incident. However, the government did not accept the demand. Yediyurappa challenged Siddaramaiah to prove the allegations by taking the matter to court or to the anti-corruption body, Lokayukta. He said he’s ready to resign if the allegations are proven.

Meanwhile, construction firm RCCL, which had bagged the ₹666-crore contract, filed an extortion case against the channel. The copy was produced in the Assembly on Saturday, according to which the company had paid the channel ₹25 lakh to keep mum on the case.

Incidentally, a criminal defamation case too was filed against the channel and a temporary injunction was obtained against airing the alleged corruption news saying they were false and fabricated.

Amid all this, with the channel continuing to air the corruption allegations, the raids on the channel’s office and its MD’s house were conducted on Monday. With the government forcing the channel to shut, seizing all their electronic gadgets and shutting down the servers, one of the anchors made an appeal not to ruin the lives of 250-odd staff members.

“Take all documents that you may require, but we request (the government) not to take the chancel off-air as it would affect the lives of 250 people, whose jobs are already at stake,” Rehman Hassan said in a Facebook post from his personal handle, even as he vowed to fight the matter in court.

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