Is Vinod Verma’s Arrest Just the Tip of the Iceberg?

Senior journalist Vinod Verma who had been arrested from his home in Ghaziabad on Friday on charges of blackmailing a Chhattisgarh PWD Minister Rajesh Munat, with a so called ‘sex CD’, has now filed an application before a court in Raipur alleging that he is being targeted as a part of a conspiracy. In an application submitted under section 156(3) of the CrPC to the court, Verma has claimed that he is being trapped in a conspiracy by two ministers of the Chhattisgarh state, who hold important constitutional posts.

Vinod Verma
Image: Amir Rizvi / CJP
According to Verma’s application, he was looking at the media affairs of state congress leader Bhupesh Baghel who in turn has filed a writ petitions against the Chief Minister in Chhatisgarh High Court. The evidence for the said petition was collected by Vinod Verma and it is because of this suspicion of his being in possession of significant evidence against the chief minister, that he has been arrested as part of a planned conspiracy. 
Verma further stated in the application that the video clip on which the CD is made has been available for over a year on social media platforms, and though the police claimed to have procured CDs from him, no such CD was procured during his arrest. He also said that the police got the clue within two hours of the FIR being filed, though the FIR interestingly has not named Vinod Verma. His lawyer said that as per the FIR, a call was received from the shop where the CD was prepared, saying, “Your master’s CD is being prepared.” In his application, he raised the following question,

·         Who is the master here?
·         Why is their name not mentioned?
·         Why is the name of the caller not mentioned?
·         Why are there no other details about the caller mentioned?
After his arrest verma is known to have quipped, “This is just the tip of the iceberg.” However, in light of this arrest the general environment around news reporting in Chattisgarh warrants a closer inspection. Vinod Verma was the member of the fact finding team from Editors guild that had investigated the ongoing serial attacks on journalists including journalists like Malini Subramaniam, Somaru Nag, Santosh Yadav and Prabaht Singh and come up with a damning report that had helped focusing the light on the terrible state of journalism in the state of Chhattisgarh. The report had said, “Not a single journalist working without fear or pressure (in Chhattisgarh)”
Senior journalist Kamal Shukla concurs that it is virtually impossible for a free and fair press to survive in Chhattisgarh these days. “By arresting a senior and renowned journalist like Vinod Verma, the Raman Singh led Chhattisgarh government is warning the journalist community against reporting against the state,” says Shukla. He further questioned the speed with which action was taken against Verma and how the police reached Delhi to arrest Vinod Verma though the unnamed FIR was filed in Chhattisgarh. “The FIR does not name anyone and yet within two hours of the filing of the FIR, the police reached Delhi and arrested Verma. This is shocking! Meanwhile, despite several cases of torture and murder of local journalists within Chhattisgarh, one is yet to see any action,” laments Shukla. He further demanded the implementation of the provisions of the Journalists Protection Law-2017 according to which any such action has to first go through a high level committee. However, according to Shukla, such a high level committee is currently non-existent.
Journalist Santosh Yadav, who was released on bail in February earlier this year after spending seventeen months on charges of having alleged links with  Maoist insurgents, said, “As per our experiences, the charges against him are completely false. It has become a trend in Chhattisgarh that if any person, and especially a journalist tries to challenge the political establishment or criticises it, the establishment conspires to have him jailed under false pretexts. An independent media, which is the fourth pillar of democracy, how far is it correct to gag it like this,” he asks. It is ironic that during the fact finding that Vinod Verma did as part of Editors guild, he had met journalist Santosh Yadav in jail.
Verma who has worked with reputed news organizations like the BBC and Amar Ujala, was produced before Raipur Special Court and remanded to police custody till 31st October.
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