Media Invited to Defence Minister’s Event, Then Asked to Leave

Journalists were asked to leave after an email invitation to cover Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s 4 May event

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Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. 
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After an email invitation to cover Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman's event on Cantonment Boards in Delhi on Friday, 4 May, journalists were asked to leave the venue because the programme was not open to the media.

The event was held at Raksha Sampada Bhawan on Ulaanbaatar Road in Delhi Cantt area, close to the airport. Sitharaman was to address MPs from cantonments and Vice Presidents of 62 Cantonment Boards in the country.

A Cantonment Board is a civic administration body that comes under the control of the Defence Ministry. It comprises elected members besides ex-officio and nominated members as per the Cantonments Act, 2006

The invitation was sent to media houses in Delhi and Noida on Thursday evening, asking regular Defence Ministry correspondents to cover the event.

However, all the scribes who made it to the event on a hot Friday afternoon were politely asked by the Public Relations Department of the Ministry to leave the auditorium of the National Institute of Defence Estates Management (NIDEM) in the Cantt area before the programme even began.

Asked why, the officials said it was only a photo opportunity and was not open to be covered by journalists.

There was no mention of such condition in the invite for the event, also attended by BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi, BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi and National Conference MP from Srinagar Farooq Abdullah.

Some reporters wanted to stay back. But the officials insisted that they cannot allow them to remain in the hall. Before the polite conversation could turn ugly, Defence spokesperson Swaranashree Rao Rajashekar, a 1997 Indian Defence Accounts Service (IDAS) officer, stepped in and pleaded with the reporters to leave the hall.

She promised that a press statement of the event would be shared with the media later.

Sources at the venue told IANS that the government was wary of some opposition MPs and Vice Presidents of the Cantonment Boards speaking against its policy of maintaining the cantonment areas. Some board officials also feared they may raise controversial issues, the sources said.

For example, representatives of the Secunderabad Cantonment Board (SCB) had planned to discuss a long-pending issue of closure of roads by Local Military Authority (LMA) which has caused outrage in that city.

It was also feared that Farooq Abdullah, one of the most vocal critics of the government, may raise the issue of alleged land encroachment by the Army in Jammu and Kashmir where military camps have been set up in non-cantonment areas.

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