T Kumar, a veteran Chennai photojournalist and bureau head of the news agency United News of India (UNI), died by suicide in the newsroom on the evening of Sunday, February 13 amid allegations of long delayed salary payment. In a Twitter thread posted by senior journalist, Vishwaa Viswanaath, he said that UNI had not paid Kumar, 56, properly for 60 months. In the tweets, he also alleges that many UNI employees have not been getting their entire salaries each month, but in installments and not the whole amount. T Kumar was found dead in his office by a colleague, India Today has reported. He is survived by his wife, daughter and son.
Vishwanaath in his Twitter thread also alleges that â€śUNI is getting approximately 6 lakh rupees revenue from Tamil Nadu bureau. One of the best paid states for its news agency service is Tamil Nadu.â€ť
Speaking to TNM on the condition of anonymity, an ex-employee of UNI confirmed the salary situation across the country, â€śMany of the permanent staff were paid every alternate month, or they would get seven salaries in each year. Arrears running upto 42 to 44 months had amassed when I was working there.â€ť The ex-employee also added that many permanent employees were laid off when Ajay Kaul took over as editor-in-chief. They too have not been paid their pending salaries. â€śThere are also outstanding Provident Funds that havenâ€™t been paid,â€ť the source told TNM, adding that several employees have been forced to approach labour courts to redress their concerns.
Another source, currently employed at UNI added that Kumar had arranged for his daughterâ€™s betrothal this month and was hard-pressed for funds.
The UNI All-India Employees Front released a statement Monday evening responding to the death of the veteran journalist. â€śWe have learnt that Mr Kumarâ€™s wife had met with an accident a few months ago and he had applied for an amount of at least Rs 1 lakh against his pending dues for her treatment. However, he was sent a paltry sum of Rs 25,000 only. Also, Mr Kumar's daughter's engagement was scheduled to be solemnised next week and it is learnt that he had applied for Rs 5 lakhs for the same, but the management was yet to respond,â€ť the statement reads.
â€śThere is a backlog of 60 months of salaries, yet the management's callous attitude toward the dire crisis of the employees is unchanged. This month itself, a decision has been taken to stop payment of Rs 10,000 against the pending statutory gratuity, pending salaries and other legal dues payable to former employees,â€ť the statement adds. The Employees Front has condemned the â€ścallous attitude of the managementâ€ť and has demanded an inquiry in the events leading to Kumarâ€™s death and â€śstrict legal action against those found responsible for abetting the suicide.â€ť
The Employees Front further alleges that only a fraction â€” rupees 15,000 of the monthly salaries â€” was being released by the UNI head office in New Delhi. This was only in instances where salaries were paid at all; overall a 60-month backlog exists, the statement says. The statement also repeats the allegations made to TNM by the former employee that those employees terminated from their posts do not get â€śgratuity, pending salaries and other dues they are legally entitled to.â€ť
The statement also makes note that the main control of UNI is with Manipal Media. All three of the board of directors are part of the Manipal group. â€śThe Chairman is Shri Sagar Mukhopadhyay of Manipal group, one of [the] UNI shareholders. The other two directors are Shri Binod Mandal (Also, Head Legal and Group Company Secretary Manipal Group) and Shri Pawan Kumar Sharma. Shareholders include Jagran Prakashan Ltd, Kasturi & Sons Ltd, Express Publication (Madurai), HT Media Ltd, Statesman Ltd & Nava Bharat Press (Bhopal) Ltd, ABP PVt Ltd., and Times of India, among others,â€ť the statement reads, adding that Mukhopadhyay was given the chairmanship â€świth a promise to revive UNI last year. Mr Mandal and Mr Sharma are also directly or indirectly connected to Manipal Group.â€ť
The statement further notes, â€śThe group, which has not brought any fresh investments, is controlling day-to-day affairs of the agency. On the contrary they have burdened the agency with monthly 20 lakh (approximate) expenditure appointing more than 30 contractual employees on key positions with hefty paychecks. Thus, in a way, they are directly responsible for the plight of employees.â€ť
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin released a statement earlier on Monday via his Twitter account. â€śI am deeply saddened to hear that senior photo journalist and Chennai Bureau chief of UNI has taken his own life. I extend my condolences to his family and the journalist community.â€ť
Responding to TNMâ€™s query, Ajay Kaul, editor-in-chief of UNI said, â€śIt's extremely painful and tragic that we lost a colleague in such a manner. We all are in a state of shock. There's no denying that UNI has been going through financial distress and we are making earnest efforts to address the situation.â€ť
If you are aware of anyone facing mental health issues or feeling suicidal, please provide help. Here are some helpline numbers of suicide-prevention organisations that can offer emotional support to individuals and families.
State health department's suicide helpline: 104
Sneha Suicide Prevention Centre - 044-24640050 (listed as the sole suicide prevention helpline in Tamil Nadu)
Life Suicide Prevention: 78930 78930
Roshni: 9166202000, 9127848584
Sahai (24-hour): 080 65000111, 080 65000222
Maithri: 0484 2540530
Chaithram: 0484 2361161
Both are 24-hour helpline numbers.
State government's suicide prevention (tollfree): 104
Roshni: 040 66202000, 6620200
SEVA: 09441778290, 040 27504682 (between 9 amd and 7 pm)
Aasara offers support to inidviduals and families during an emotional crisis, for those dealing with mental health issues and suicidal ideation, and to those undergoing trauma after the suicide of a loved one.
24x7 Helpline: 9820466726
Click here for working helplines across India.