“Imam Bukhari has money to buy luxurious cars but can’t pay electricity bills,” asked Republic TV while reporting that electricity has been cut in Jama Masjid due to non-payment of bills. “Inside Jama Masjid is a complete blackout” stated the Republic reporter as camera panned to the mosque. The crew then went outside Imam Bukhari’s residence counting the number parked cars and informing the viewers about the models. What was so far fake news circulated by sites like Postcard News and Hindutva handles on social media has made it to national television. Let us look at this story about 4 cr unpaid bills by Delhi’s Jama Masjid that was doing the rounds on social media and has also been picked up by Republic TV.
The story of non-payment of electricity bill by Jama Masjid comes up every few months since 2012. This time it came up soon after the sentencing of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in an attempt to draw unrelated comparisons.
Though the first tweet did not say it was recent news, a subsequent tweet by a twitter user, @ArunrBits on July 27th claimed that Jama Masjid in Delhi and its 2000 shops haven’t paid electricity bills since 1947. The tweet provided no links to the news but it caught the fancy of many like-mined people who eagerly await such news. The tweet has been shared more than 3700 times.
— Jai Maa Bharathi (@ArunrBits) August 28, 2017
When asked for the source, @ArunrBits shared an Indian Express article from September 2012. The article reported that Jama Masjid had run up a power bill of Rs 4.16 crore as the charges had not been paid for the past several years. It mentioned a dispute between the Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid, and Delhi Waqf Board, each holding the other responsible for clearing the dues and said, “With neither ready to take up responsibility, residents in the vicinity of the mosque have been suffering as power distribution company (discom) BSES often snaps power supply to the area as penalty for unpaid dues.”
When there is fake news to be shared, Postcard News takes the pole position. In an article titled, “Huge Jolt for Imam Bukhari!! BSES cuts Power Supply for Jama Masjid due to huge pending electricity bill”, the website claimed that “It seems Bure Din have started for Baba and Imams in India” It informed its readers that “One of India’s biggest and most famous mosques, Delhi’s Jama Masjid has plunged into darkness over unpaid electricity bill of Rs 4.16 crore.” It quoted BSES and Waqf board in its story. These were bits that were picked from 2012 news without stating either the source or the date.
Those like the President of Hindu Samhati, Tapan Ghosh, who take Postcard News articles seriously, promptly quoted it as proof of India changing under Prime Minister Modi.
In response to queries addressed to it, BSES clarified that it is an old issue that was resolved long back.
BSES also retweeted the tweet of Hindustan Times journalist Sweta Goswami to confirm that power supply to Jama Masjid has not been cut and there are no outstanding dues.
Alt News spoke to BSES spokesperson who confirmed that no such power cut was made due to non-payment of dues. He said, “It is a fake news. Power supply in the Jama Masjid is normal as always.” He also stated these were baseless rumors started by people on social media. He told Alt News that there was an issue five years ago which was resolved at that time. He stated that in 2012, the non-payment was due to a dispute between the mosque and the Waqf board and has long been settled.
Alt News also spoke to Tariq Bukhari who is Imam Bukhari’s son. Bukhari brushed off the recent reports as false news started by someone on twitter. He confirmed that BSES has not cut the power supply. When asked why the mosque appears dark in the Republic footage, Bukhari said he is not sure what time the footage was taken. He explained that the mosque is not lit with floodlights. The gate 3 is closed after sunset prayers and the mosque can be accessed from the main gate. He said, “If you look carefully at the footage, there are lights inside & on the steps. There is sufficient lighting inside till the mosque is shut an hour after the night (Isha) prayers.”
It is understandable for right-wing Hindutva twitter handles to spread fake news and jump with joy at the thought of BSES action against Jama Masjid but better was expected from a national television channel. The news about Rs. 4.16 crore past dues and the dispute between the Imam and the Wakf board is five-year-old. Both Bukhari and BSES confirmed that power supply was regular yesterday and there were no power cuts. BSES had already tweeted debunking the Jama Masjid story as a rumour. Surely Republic could have reconfirmed any non-payment with BSES before airing the story.