A Delhi-based journalist was on Tuesday questioned by the police for his news report claiming that the government had been discriminating against Muslims in appointment as yoga instructors in the AYUSH Ministry.
Journalist Pushp Sharma of Milli Gazette, where the story was published, was questioned at Kotla Mubarakpur police station in south Delhi on a complaint by a senior AYUSH Ministry official, police said.
A senior police officer said that Sharma had earlier been arrested in 2009 on the charge of extorting money from government officials by threatening them with sting operations.
There were also allegations that Sharma tried to extort money from police officers, the officer said.
The Ministry's stand
The Ministry had earlier condemned the "misreporting" which it claimed was aimed at causing a "chasm" between different sections of society and "promoting disharmony and mistrust with ulterior motives".
"The Ministry of AYUSH has noted with anguish certain mischievous misinformation being spread in certain sections of media and social media quoting a reply to an RTI by mentioning a fabricated draft as Annexure I to that letter, which has never been issued by the Ministry of AYUSH or any of its agencies.
"The Ministry strongly condemns this piece of misreporting, clearly aimed at causing chasm between different sections of society and promoting disharmony and mistrust with ulterior motives," the ministry had said in a statement.
The ministry on Saturday said that an RTI request dated 17 September, 2015 was received from Sharma which sought information about various issues including how many times yoga councils were formulated in last ten years, detail list of each council, name of Yoga council members who got selected, how many Muslim candidates were invited, selected or sent abroad as Yoga trainers, amongst others.
The Ministry said that on receipt of the query, it forwarded this RTI request to its three agencies namely Morarji Desai National Institute of Yoga, Central Council for Research in Yoga and Naturopathy and International Cooperation wing of the Ministry.
"This is a simple forwarding letter under section 6(3) of RTI Act and therefore does not contain any reply to the queries.
"The same forwarding letter of the Ministry has been used by a section of the media in this matter, but with a non-existent, fictitious "ANNEXURE- I", (which has never been issued by the Ministry)," it said.
The Ministry had successfully conducted the first International Day of Yoga on 21 June last year, which witnessed the participation of more than 30,000 participants and created a Guinness World record. The Ministry further said that the contents regarding religion based data in the so-called Annexure- I are not only "fabricated but factually incorrect" as well.
"The response of the International Cooperation Section of the Ministry clearly said that invitations were sent to yoga experts and enthusiasts without reference to their religions. Replies sent to the applicant by MDNIY, CCRYN are also enclosed for ready reference. The Ministry is initiating appropriate action in the matter," it said.
Petition filed against AYUSH's "discriminatory" policy
Following the controversy, a petition was filed with National Commission of Minorities (NCM), Prime Minister and President by lawyer-activist Shehzad Poonawalla against the 'discriminatory' policy adopted by the AYUSH Ministry.
Poonawalla urged the NCM to direct the government to immediately withdraw this 'discriminatory and unreasonable' policy against Muslims which is thoroughly "violative" of the Constitution and should have never been introduced at all.
"NCM should monitor and review periodically the policies of the government to ensure they are not discriminatory against any religious minorities and live up to the slogan of Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas in letter and spirit.
"PM Modi must take cognizance of communal incidents being done by certain elements who have now entered the mainstream. It is time to make stringent rules against his kind of communal assault targeting Muslims. The President must advise the government to take necessary corrective measures," Poonawala had said in the petition.
Milli Gazette's stand
The Milli Gazette issued a statement on its Facebook page, saying "a police force claiming to be from Kotla Mubarakpur police station in New Delhi picked up journalist Sharma from his home in Lajpat Nagar at around 6.30 pm today."
It also claimed that Sharma has been arrested. However, police did not confirm the report of his arrest.
In an Editor's note published on Sunday, titled Ayush Ministry's reply is misleading, noted that Sharma stands by his story and the "Ministry’s rebuttal to our story is factually incorrect".
"The ministry is talking about a different RTI filed by the same journalist at about the same time, and concerns foreign yoga experts invited to attend the Yoga conference last year while our story talks about Yoga teachers sent out from India," it said.
With inputs from agencies