On July 14, ANI published a report titled, “Uttarakhand: Passengers to be charged during rescue operations.” Affixed with the article was a notification issued by the state Civil Aviation Development Authority addressed to the District Magistrate of Pithoragarh. Based on this, ANI reported that “passengers would be charged availing helicopters during rescue operations at the time of disasters.” The story was also picked up by NDTV, Deccan Chronicle and India Times. NDTV later published another article with the Chief Minister’s response.

Social media users did not take the news well and many tweeted in outrage, including former JNUSU Vice President Shehla Rashid and national social media in-charge of Indian Youth Congress Vaibhav Walia.

CM Trivendra Singh Rawat refutes ANI’s story

Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat took to Twitter to refute ANI’s reportage. He said that in a government order dated July 4, clear directives were given to use the choppers for rescue at “no cost to evacuees.”

The order tweeted by the CM mentions – “People stuck in a disaster will not be charged any rent, however, from Dharchula to Gunji in Pithoragarh, Rs 3,500 would be charged per normal passenger…”

On July 15, ANI tweeted the same notification as in its earlier article, clarifying that “Uttarakhand government has revoked this July 6 notification which charged passengers at the time of disasters.”

However, CM Rawat responded by saying that no such rent was ever charged in the first place.

Alt News contacted CMO and was told the same by the personal assistant to the Chief Minister – passengers rescued during disasters were never charged any money.

ANI editor Ishaan Prakash responded to CM Rawat on Twitter that the subject line of the notification clearly states “dues for helicopter help during disaster”. 

However, Alt News closely read the July 6 notification, issued in Hindi, by the Civil Aviation Development Authority and found that the subject line of the letter does not read what was claimed by Prakash. It specifically talks about how much rent would normal passengers be charged for availing the services of disaster-relief helicopters stationed at Janpad-Pithoragarh and doesn’t pertain to those being rescused. “Regarding the rent charged to normal passengers for disaster relief helicopters stationed at Janpad-Pithoragarh,” reads the subject line.

The body of the letter further mentions that the rent charged to normal passengers is being decreased, effective immediately. “The rate of rent charged to normal passengers is being decreased to Rs 2,500 and adding GST to the amount brings the total rent to Rs 3,100 per passenger,” it says.

Neither the subject line nor the body of the letter mentions the “charge for those stuck in a disaster” or the “charge for evacuees being revoked.”

The Uttarakhand government also released a press note on July 15, stating that claims on social media suggesting that the government is charging for helicopter services from disaster-affected people in Pithoragarh are misleading. The press note further adds that the helicopter service is being provided “in view of the possibility of heavy rains.”

This was also mentioned in a July 15 tweet by CM Rawat where he said, “Keeping in mind monsoons in hilly regions, my government has rented two helicopters for Garhwal and Kumaon to be used immediately during disasters.”

Mainstream media outlets with substantial readership should be more vigil about the content they publish. An instance of even modest misreporting not only affects their credibility but also misinforms the public.

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