Despite concerted efforts by some of the powerful social groups in Tamil Nadu to stonewall the investigation into the visit to Kanyakumari district of the two French citizens, Arthur Roland Rene and Jules Damien, during November 24 to 26 and their sudden exit from the country, the police and Central agencies are probing all angles associated with the controversial tour by them to prohibited areas. Peer Mohammed, convener of the Alliance for Media Freedom told The Pioneer that the foreigners escaped for fear of their life.
Peer Mohammed said the French nationals were accredited as journalists by an organisation in France. “The basic lesson taught to investigative journalists like me is to run for our life when there are chances of us falling into the hands of the enemies,” said Peer Mohammed who said that journalists in Tamil Nadu were under the threat of the authorities.
Rene and Damien, accompanied by a Catholic priest had visited prohibited areas in Kanyakumari district which fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Atomic Energy and had videographed the entire region. Even Indian journalists are not allowed to carry cameras or mobile phones when they are invited to DAE establishments like Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR), Kalpakkam, and units of the Indian Rare Earth for security reasons. Media persons are provided with pictures filmed by the public relations department of the DAE.
When this was pointed out, Peer Mohammed said the touring ‘journalists’ were not aware of the laws of the land. “The security officer at IRE unit got panicky and that’s why this became a controversy,” he said.
Though Kanyakumari district is known as a communally sensitive area, there has been no instance of any journalist being detained or harassed by the police in the recent past. “If the French citizens were journalists as claimed by the Alliance for Media Freedom, why did they check into the hotel under fake identities? The rooms were booked in the name of Anand Kumar and Sreeram,” said Ramakrishnan Gautaman, head, Vedic Science Research Centre.
The claim by Alliance for Media Freedom that the French citizens visited the Chinnavilai village to study about the illegal sand mining itself has created doubts among a section of the local population. “The mining area in this village is under the jurisdiction of the IRE which is mining various minerals from the region. The mining licence has been granted by the Governments of India and Tamil Nadu and there is no illegal operation by the IRE,” pointed out Gauthaman. He also pointed out that the French citizens could have approached either the Madras High Court or Gagansingh Bedi, the Principal Secretary to the Government of Tamil Nadu for any details about the illegal mining operations in the State. “Bedi has held a comprehensive study about all kinds of mining in Tamil Nadu and has prepared voluminous reports,” said Gauthaman.
The meetings held by the French citizens with members of one particular community and their exclusive interactions with religious leaders has caught the attention of the police. "It is said that they escaped without checking out from the hotel rooms and had left some hard disks in their room. But they had their travel documents and other equipment with them. They left the hard disks in the hotel room to divert the attention of the police," said a police official probing the issue.