Mumbai: The Mumbai Press Club on Tuesday condemned the attack on journalists, who were covering the pre-Holi celebrations at Asaram Bapu ashram in neighbouring Thane.

A group of followers of Asaram Bapu on Monday allegedly assaulted mediapersons and damaged their equipments, apparently angry at criticism over wastage of water at a pre-Holi function by the self-styled godman in drought-hit Maharashtra.

Asaram Bapu's followers pelted stones at tv news reporters and assaulted them, damaging their video cameras, the police said. It was learnt that after some of Bapu's supporters began spreading the word that the media must be taught a lesson for criticising their guru, journalists were attacked, the Press Club alleged in a statement.

Camera persons of some TV channels, photographers and a few other journalists were injured in the attack, the statement said. Some other activists who had gone to the venue to protest against the wastage of water were also assaulted, the statement added.

"We in Mumbai and Maharashtra have been on the receiving end of those who had scant respect for democracy and rule of law. We also have been demanding amendments in the existing laws so that attack on media persons and media houses should be compulsorily treated as non-bailable and cognisable", said Press Club Secretary Rajesh Mascarenhas.

The Press Club in the past has made representations to the Centre and Maharashtra Government and also approached the Press Council of India in this regard.

23 supporters of Asaram arrested

"A total 23 people have been arrested late last night in connection with the attack on media persons," said an official at Rabale police station in neighbouring Navi Mumbai city.

Police used video footages, witness accounts and photographs to nail the accused, the official said, adding that more arrests were likely. The accused were apparently angry at criticism by media of Asaram Bapu over wastage of water at a pre-Holi function by him in Navi Mumbai, at a time when Maharashtra is facing its worst-ever drought in more than four decades.

While Maharashtra MLAs had raised the issue in the state Legislature of Asaram and his followers "wasting" water at Sunday's event in Nagpur, the Municipal Corporation there had said it was sending a notice to him for misuse of water tankers provided by the civic body. A social activist had even approached the Chief Justice of Bombay High Court to restrain Asaram and general public from wasting water during the Holi festival.

Asaram Bapu has been mired in controversies and the Ministry of Corporate Affairs had recently said it received complaints against him and his son in an alleged 700-acre land grabbing case and the Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) is looking into the matter.


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