Administrations have a way of turning relatively minor scandals into major ones simply by trying to squash all publicity of it.

The mid-day meal revelation in Uttar Pradesh’s Mirzapur district is yet another instance. On 22 August, children at aprimary school in the district were served roti and salt, instead of a more wholesome lunch of pulses and vegetables. The government’s flagship scheme, designed to offer nutrition alongside education, also mandates the serving of milk on certain days of the week. Journalist Pawan Jaiswal shot a video of that particular meal’s inadequacy and sent it to a Delhi-based news agency. Soon, the video went viral on social media,catching the state government and the district administration off guard.

Someone would’ve had to be hauled up and orders issued for proper meals. The matter may have ended there had the authorities not filed a case against Jaiswal, charging him, among other things, with a criminal conspiracy and producing false evidence. This, despite the fact that in the FIR filed against the scribe, the administration admitted that only roti and salt had been made at the school until noon on the day of the incident.

If the incident has snowballed into an all-India controversy, it’s largely for the attitude on display. Instead of responding to the news, the authorities’ instinct was to shoot the proverbial messenger. To explain the conspiracy charges, Mirzapur’s district magistrate has made the bizarre argument that Jaiswal should have clicked photos and written about the incident, rather than take a video, since he is a print journalist. The state government of Uttar Pradesh should put a stop to this theatre of the absurd, address inadequacies in its implementation of the mid-day meal scheme, and let reporters freely report the true state of affairs.

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