India Today has once again found itself embroiled in controversy by publishing a fake story, claiming that the Kumbh Mela was becoming a COVID-19 super spreader event. In a report published on April 6, with the headline titled “Kumbh Mela becoming a super-spreader event, hope SOP is followed: Centre”, the media house quoting government officials claimed that Kumbh Mela had already become a superspreader event and that SOP’s were still not put in place.
However, as soon as the fake news came out in the public domain, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare was quick to call out India Today for its fake news and tweeted, “This news published by @IndiaToday is INCORRECT and FAKE.” The Ministry put up the screenshot of the article, along with the description and thrashed the media house.
— Ministry of Health (@MoHFW_INDIA) April 6, 2021
At the time of going to press, after receiving backlash from the Ministry and the public, India Today made slight modifications to its earlier article. The headline has now been changed to “Follow SOP at Kumbh Mela, stop it from becoming super-spreader event: Centre to Uttarakhand”. However, the URL of the article still carries the previous headline. While India Today might have toned down its dissemination of fake news; in the article, it still reeks of vague insinuations that Kumbh Mela has become a mass COVID spreading site, already.
During the press briefing, upon which the article was based on — India Today conveniently misconstrued the statements of Rajesh Bhushan, the secretary of MoHFW, who had addressed the media when one of the reporters asked if there are indications of Maha Kumbh becoming a super spreader and if there are any plans to end the event sooner than scheduled.
“One fact that we usually lose sight of is that the duration of Kumbh has already been curtailed. Kumbh, wherever it happens, is usually for three-and-a-half to four months. The present Kumbh has already been curtailed to a month. So let’s not lose sight of facts. At times when we tend to push in particular interpretation or narrative, we tend to lose sight of very basic facts.” Rajesh Bhushan had said.
The Secretary had further informed that measures and SOP’s were already placed a month before the start of the event and that various other protocols were put in place to keep a check on the COVID cases.
“As far as super-spreaders events are concerned, the union government almost a month ago issued an SOP specifically for the practices to be adopted in Kumbh and had a longish meeting with the state government officers in which Dr Balram Bhargav and Dr Paul also participated and after that NCBC fielded four local inspection teams, two of which were led by director NCBC himself and they also shared with the state governments various protocols that need to be put in place,” he added.
Despite the Secretary being clear as chalk and cheese in his statements, India Today went ahead and peddled its agenda. Hindu festivals and customs have always been put under scrutiny by the liberal media who tend to have a grudge to grind with the Hindus. India Today was alert enough to paint the Haridwar event as a superspreader event but not alert enough to point out that the duration of the event was drastically cut down, the negative COVID tests of attendees were required to attend the event and last but not least, the SOPs had been issued and implemented well before the event.