On Thursday evening a truck was outside the office of the largest circulating English daily of Kashmir, Greater Kashmir. Several labourers were loading chairs, tables, computers, printers, and other office equipment into the vehicle.
The estate department made Greater Kashmir vacate the building allotted to the paper in the 1990s. Last year the government had asked former BCC correspondent Yousuf Jameel to vacate his office from the press colony.
On October 19, 2020, the Jammu and Kashmir estates department sealed the Srinagar office of the Kashmir Times. The newspaper, one of the oldest English dailies in Jammu and Kashmir, had functioned out of the government allotted offices since the 1990s. Anuradha Bhasin, the editor had said she was being targeted for filing a petition in the Supreme Court against the communications blockade imposed on August 5, 2019, when the Centre abrogated Article 370 and split the erstwhile state of J&K into two Union Territories.
Her petition was instrumental in getting the Supreme Court to push the government to relax curbs on communication and be transparent about restriction orders in Jammu and Kashmir. Last year senior journalist Altaf Hussain was given a day’s notice to vacate the building.
“I have fond memories with the Greater Kashmir office. Almost all leading journalists of the Valley have worked as interns, reporters and editors with Greater Kashmir. It was painful to see the winding up its office from press colony,” said a reporter. Incidentally, no journalistic organisation including the Editors Guild of Kashmir has issued any statement about the issue.
Senior journalists here say the press colony was one of the representatives of Kashmir’s journalism that had evolved over the years. It started as a residential colony for local officials of the British Resident posted in Kashmir during the Dogra period. Later during the 1950s, it was expanded with the directorate of information and the Press Information Bureau offices started functioning from the colony making it an institutional area.
Later it was also inhabited by national correspondents as veteran journalists like R.K Kak, Sayeed Malik, Om Saraf, Shameem Ahmad Shameem, O.N Koul, Pran Nath Jalali and others. In 1990 when militancy-hit Kashmir, the government made local journalists operate from the press enclave as it was considered a secure area for them to report. The administration in 1990 allotted quarters to the local newspapers. A senior editor says the press colony was a central place where journalists would meet often. Now journalists would be scattered all around. “It was one of the symbols of Kashmiri power after 1947,” says a senior journalist.
In spite of being a secure area, many journalists were killed at press colony. Mushtaq Ali, a photojournalist for AFP, was killed by a parcel bomb that exploded in his hands at the office of BBC correspondent Yousuf Jameel on September 10, 1995. The package, delivered by a burqa-clad unidentified woman, was meant for Jameel but he was on the phone and Ali picked it up. The bomb exploded wounding Ali who succumbed to his injuries three days later. The press colony is also named Mushtaq Enclave as a tribute to Ali.
On January 31, 2003, Parvaz Mohammed Sultan, who was the editor of News and Feature Alliance (NAFA), a local news gathering agency, was shot dead by two unidentified militants at his office located in Press Enclave in Srinagar.
Senior journalist and the editor Rising Kashmir Shujaat Bukhari was shot dead by the suspected militants outside his office on June 14, 2018. He was leaving office to attend an Iftar party when assailants, reported to be two in number, fired at his vehicle, killing him and his personal security officers on the spot.
Greater Kashmir had its office in the press colony for the past three decades. But on Wednesday the newspaper’s editor-in-chief received the notice under section 4, sub-section 1, of the Jammu and Kashmir Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) (Amendment) Act, 2016. The notice reads that the administration has “a reason to believe that you are not authorised to occupy/continue Government JN Quarter No. 06, Pratap Park, Srinagar anymore, as you are occupying the said premises illegally.” “The term of your allotment had expired and no further extension order has been issued in your favour till date and an amount of Rs 13,383 up to ending October 2021 is outstanding as rent on account of the above accommodation,” the notice pointed out. However, the newspaper management has been paying the rent and the amount shown as pending in the notice by the estate's department seems of the last month, says one of the employees.
A senior journalist pleading anonymity said the usual practice was the government would allot a quarter to a paper for a year and then it was presumed that space of the paper. Besides, the government had deliberately provided the space at the press colony to various papers to give them a sense of security. He said the press has been always part of the democracy project but now the government seems to have other plans. “It won’t impact journalists much but one thing will happen that they would be now scattered all around Srinagar city,” he said.
Senior PDP leader Naeem Akhtar says the government is doing to the Press Enclave what they did to mainstream political parties. He said the way the government is dismantling mainstream parties and is replacing them with other parties and in the same manner, the government is replacing traditional press with their loyalists. He said after the abrogation of Article 370, Kashmir local press not only bent but crawled. It seems the government is not still happy and wants to dispense with them. “For the past two years reporting of Greater Kashmir and other papers seem restricted and there is hardly any critical comment on present polity but Greater Kashmir still is an institution and its removal from the press colony is a big strike on the press,” he added.