Agra resident Lalita Kumari, 17, has been suffering from aplastic anaemia for the past 19 months. The family required Rs 10 lakh for her treatment, an appeal for which was made to the PMO last year in July. Two months later, in September 2018, partial financial assistance of Rs 3 lakh was provided to Lalita.

Since then, the family has been struggling to gather the remaining Rs 7 lakh. The Times of India reported on June 22, 2019, that the family, unable to arrange for the funds, sought euthanasia for their daughter in a written request to chief minister Yogi Adityanath. Soon after, media reports started pouring in with the claim that the prime minister extended Rs 30 lakh aid for the ailing child.

“Fake news”, says Lalita’s family

On June 22, ANI carried a report claiming that the family was granted Rs 30 lakh financial assistance by the PMO. Several media outlets subsequently published reports based on the ANI story – Times Now, The Quint, Asian Age, India Today, Republic, Financial Express, Hindustan Times, DNA and Deccan Chronicle. The Quint claimed that the family had already received assistance to the tune Rs 30 lakh and was making renewed appeals for more funds.

Dainik Jagran and Jansatta also carried reports on the “Rs 30 lakh” story. An English translation of Dainik Jagran’s over-blown headline read – “PM answers her calls, Lalita no longer wishes death as she gets the gift of life.”

BJP West Bengal MP Babul Supriyo tweeted the India Today story, thus attracting nearly 6,000 likes and over 900 retweets to the claim that PM Modi sanctioned a grant of Rs 30 lakh to the ailing child.

In a June 23 article in The Times of India, the family termed the news reports “fake” and said, “After the intervention of Etah MP Rajveer Singh, who wrote a letter to PMO for financial assistance, only Rs 3 lakh was sanctioned last year on September 30. The report of Rs 30 lakh grant is fake and it has hurt our efforts to get help for my daughter. We need help for our dying girl. This fake news can cost my daughter’s life.”

Lalita, who is bedridden, told TOI, “Had PMO granted Rs 30 lakh against Rs 10 lakh requirement, I would have got new lease of life. This is cruel. Whoever has spread this fake news must visit me and see my condition. My family has lost their entire savings, farmland and mortgaged our home to pay my medical bill.”

The extra ‘0’

Last year, BMT RK Birla Cancer SMS Hospital, Jaipur gave an estimate of Rs 10 lakh for Lalita’s treatment. A letter stating the same was recently tweeted by TOI journalist Arvind Chauhan.

The family sent a letter to the PMO through BJP Etah MP Rajveer Singh in July last year, asking for financial assistance. The prime minister’s office replied two months later, in September 2018, that a partial sum of Rs 3 lakh has been granted to the family from the prime minister’s national relief fund.

Chauhan shared the PMO’s response in a June 23, 2019 tweet. The letter said, “Please refer to your letter dated nil received through Shri Rajveer Singh (Raju Bhaiya)…letter dated 14/07/2018, regarding financial assistance for Aplastic Anaemia of Miss Lalita Kumari…The Prime Minister has sanctioned a grant of Rs 300000.0/- from the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund to partially defray the expenses involved in the surgery/treatment subject to the conditions mentioned overleaf…”

Not only did the media circulate incorrect information but Dr Dinesh Arora, the deputy CEO of PM’s flagship health scheme Ayushman Bharat, retweeted a tweet which wrongly claimed that Rs 30 lakh was granted to the family.

Despite the letter clearly stating that a grant of Rs 3 lakh was sanctioned, an extra ‘zero’ found a place in media reports nine months after the money was dispersed. Moreover, there has been no fresh announcement of additional financial assistance from the PMO, which is clear from Arora’s tweet where he says, “have requested state to help…”

Alt News contacted Chauhan who said that the state government has now stepped in and offered to help the girl. “CMO Agra has offered to arrange for free treatment for Lalita at SGPGI Lucknow,” he told Alt News. This was also reported in the media.

A misreport carried by nearly every mainstream media outlet could have potentially derailed the girl’s treatment. It is rather peculiar that a 9-month old grant was inflated ten times and floated by the media simultaneous to the family’s fresh appeals for financial assistance. Clarifications or corrections to the articles are yet to be made despite the family calling out the misinformation and the CMO Agra transferring the girl to Lucknow for treatment.

UPDATE: [After Alt News’s fact-check was published, ANI took down its story, however, sans clarification. The same was done by India Today. The Quint rectified its story and added a clarification. Jansatta included The Times of India’s findings in its report without making any other changes to the copy. ]

About the Author

Pooja Chaudhuri is a senior editor at Alt News.