An India-born Australian journalist has alleged that she and her colleagues were not given visas to India months after their network published an investigative report on the controversial Adani coal mine project in their country.
Amruta Slee, a radio producer with Radio National, which is a radio network run by ABC, wrote that she and her colleagues had been working on a series of programmes about India for months now.
“For months colleagues and I have been working on a series of programs about India since independence for Radio National. We received a grant to travel to the subcontinent and interview the country’s best and brightest: historians, economists, investigative journalists, satirists, environmentalists, academics, architects and student leaders,” she wrote in the piece published on abc.net.au.
After they received the travel grant, they applied for journalist visas in December, two months before their scheduled departure.
But their wait never ended.
Amruta said that when she called the Sydney visa office, she found that their helpline number was outsourced to India and no one had any knowledge about what was happening.
“I called DFAT (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade), who had given us the grant, to ask if they knew what the hold-up was. I called friends who were old India hands, people who worked at embassies, journalists who might have a contact. I sent countless emails, I called Julie Bishop's (Foreign Affairs Minister) office, I called Delhi,” she wrote.
Amruta says, it was only with days to go for their trip that they got an idea of why their visas might not have been issued.
“Reassurances flowed — this was ‘always the way’, the consulate ‘often waits until the last moment’. But that last moment was a fortnight away, a week away. Then, with days to go, a highly placed government source admitted there was a problem: ‘It’s about the Adani story’,” she wrote.
When she informed her interviewees that the trip had been cancelled because they didn’t get their visas, some of the responses she got were: “I’m so, so sorry but I’m not surprised” and “Is this about the Adani expose?”
The journalists have not received any official explanation but “did receive some strange emails: requests to send a list of who we would talk to and offers to have someone accompany us around Delhi.”
“There are troubling questions about what this means for Australian journalism. But that’s not all that’s at stake,” Amruta said.
The Consulate General of India (CGI) in Sydney has however denied the allegations and instead has accused the journalists of violating Indian visa rules.
The CGI tweeted saying, “Delay in issuing visas to ABC news team has nothing to do with the issues mentioned in this article. ABC news journalists violated Indian visa rules recently by engaging in activities which were not declared at the time of applying their visas.”
Delay in issuing visas to ABC news team has nothing to do with the issues mentioned in this article. ABC news journalists voilated Indian visa rules recently by engaging in activities which were not declared at the time of applying their visas @HCICanberra @PhillipAdams_1— India in Sydney (@cgisydney) February 7, 2018
Amruta, in turn, has asked the CGI to explain the alleged violations.
The Adani expose refers to an investigation carried out by ABC’s Stephen Long that “uncovered previously unknown tax haven ties for Adani Group’s Australian operations, with key assets ultimately owned in the British Virgin Islands.”