Kannada TV channel helped raze homes of 700 poor families, then gloated about it

Suvarna TV conducted a ‘sting operation’ about ‘illegal Bangladeshis’ in Bengaluru, prompting a city official to launch an illegal demolition drive.

WrittenBy:Kapil Kajal
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On the outskirts of Bengaluru, there is a mini-Bangladesh. Bengaluru is sitting on a Bangladeshi time bomb,” an anchor on Suvarna TV thundered, to ominous background music.

Thus began the Kannada news channel’s broadcast of its “sting operation” on the presence of undocumented Bangladeshi immigrants in Bengaluru. Days later, the police demolished over 700 tin sheds, claiming they were inhabited by “Bangladeshi nationals”.

Suvarna TV is owned by Rajeev Chandrasekhar, a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party and its Rajya Sabha MP. On January 15, it broadcast a programme based on secretly filmed interviews with multiple residents of Kariyammana Agrahara and Devarabeesanahalli, both in the Mahadevapura Assembly constituency.

These areas are populated by the poor, who predominantly live in tin sheds. The residents “revealed” in the interviews that “agents” in collusion with the Border Security Force had helped them “sneak” into India. They claimed the local police collected Rs 500-1,000 from them every week, and that every person living in the two localities was Bangladeshi.

One of the people filmed was a wiry 16-year-old, whom the anchor, Ajit Hanamakkanavar, introduced as a teenager “willing to do any illegal work” for money. “Bangladeshi people can commit any crime here, and very easily escape back to their country,” Hanamakkanavar said.

The programme, packaged for viewers as “mega exclusive” and “explosive”, opened with a bolt of lightning setting the screen on fire. As Hanamakkanavar launched into his tirade on the “threat” from the presence of undocumented Bangladeshis in Bengaluru, graphics of explosions and infernos unfolded behind him.

Two days later, an assistant executive engineer of the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike — the city corporation — visited the settlements at Kariyammana Agrahara and Devarabeesanahalli. The engineer brought the police and a JCB excavator, and demolished over 700 tin sheds.

The police claimed the sheds were erected by “illegal Bangladeshi immigrants”. However, word soon spread that many, if not most, of the residents were Indian nationals from Assam, West Bengal, and even North Karnataka. As their dwellings turned into debris, many of the residents stood, clutching their Aadhaar cards, voter IDs and other documents, unsuccessfully trying to convince the authorities they were Indian.

As it turned out, the demolition drive was not authorised. The commissioner of the BBMP, BH Amit Kumar, said as much, adding that the assistant executive engineer had no authority to go ahead with it. The engineer was suspended.

Meanwhile, the People's Union for Civil Liberties filed a petition in the Karnataka High Court challenging the forceful eviction. The court passed an interim stay on further demolition.

But that didn’t stop Suvarna TV from patting itself on the back.

On January 18, it broadcast a self-congratulatory programme on the “impact” of their sting operation.

Starting with a video of the debris after the demolition drive, the anchor asked a reporter: “What is the impact of our sting operation?”

The reporter replied: “As you can see, there are thousands of sheds being demolished in different areas of Bengaluru. This is the Suvarna News big impact. Earlier, the BBMP officials in this area were in support of Bangladeshi people living in these areas. We did the sting on Monday and Tuesday, and on Wednesday, it got published. And today [on Saturday], you can see the Bangladeshi people leaving.”

Pointing to the demolished sheds, the reporter said during the “sting”, most of the residents here were Bangladeshi. The sting had claimed there were 3,000 sheds, each housing two or three Bangladeshi immigrants.

As KS Dakshina Murthy, editor of The Federal, pointed out, “I don’t know on what basis they are congratulating themselves, especially when the BBMP commissioner and the court are saying the law was not followed.” His news website published a series of ground reports last month on the plight of Bangladeshi immigrants in Bengaluru.

“Sting operations should be carried out against people who misuse their power — not against vulnerable sections of society who are already finding it difficult to make a living,” he added.

An advocate representing PUCL in the high court told Newslaundry, on the condition of anonymity, that videos on “illegal Bangladeshi immigrants” in Bengaluru had gone viral on social media. He accused Suvarna TV of drumming up paranoia and, even if inadvertently, playing a part in the demolition. He called the channel's handling of the matter “obnoxious and reprehensible”.

“How can they celebrate somebody’s house being broken down?” he exclaimed.

Lekha Adavi, another advocate representing PUCL, agreed. “It is wrong but who is there to monitor them?” she said. “If they do not have humanity, how can one say anything about it? It is wrong, it is condemnable.”

Newslaundry contacted the Suvarna TV reporter who did the sting operation but he declined to comment on the matter. He asked that he not be mentioned in the story as well, fearing that it would jeopardise his job.

Newslaundry tried to get in touch with the editor of Suvarna TV but was unable to do so. The reporter who conducted the sting did not respond to messages asking for the editor’s contact details. Another Suvarna TV reporter said he “didn’t have” the editor’s number.

Kapil Kajal is a reporter at 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.


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