Sticking to the Gujarat government's version

This article originally appeared in THE HOOT, http://www.thehoot.org/web/home/story.php?storyid=4439&mod=1&pg=1&sectionId=20&valid=true and is reproduced with the permission of the author.

Does the Narmada issue and its emotive appeal in Gujarat predetermine the stylistic and editorial cuts in such a way that ‘an official’s version’ is zealously embraced, putting aside all the qualms about verifying the truth,

Posted in THE HOOT Sunday, Apr 04 19:01:50, 2010

Try searching the news on Narmada, on the day after a crucial meeting of Environment Sub Group of Narmada Control Authority [NCA] to figure out what was on the agenda and what was decided upon, by whom, when, how and why. Although the meeting was scheduled to take place in New Delhi, the only three news clips from English language newspapers that you come across all originate from Gandhinagar and are all based on the ‘reported speech' by Gujarat state officials attending the meeting. If Shubhalaxmi Shukla on April 01, 2010 is quoting the view of B N Navalawala - advisor to Chief minister on water management ' on the MoEF appointed Experts Committee (can view online here) two news clips in The Indian Express and the Time of India on April 02 also merely quote what officials on return from meeting in New Delhi told them here and here.

Journalists writing on the most controversial dam appears to merely hold mike to ‘officials' just like they did during August 2008. For an analysis of how ‘news' and ‘decision' were manufactured then see here.

For example, when Shubhalaxmi Shukla quotes Navalawala stating, “The committee has no locus-standi. Under the Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal Award, 1979, the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) is supposed to oversee the environmental and rehabilitation work taken under the Sardar Sarovar Project. NCA has set up two subgroups of committees to monitor proper implementation of the project. The Pandey committee is ultra vires to the NCA,” doesn't she feel any need to pose a counter-question, “if it was so, how would Navalawala explain that the decision to constitute the said committee was taken at 46th meeting of Environment Sub Group of NCA, and why didn't Gujarat approach the apex court immediately after the MoEF memorandum constituting the committee dated July 09, 2008”?

She quotes the interim report of the said committee but glosses over the ‘official claims' that  the committee is ultra vires by not asking crucial questions. The two news clips from April 02, 2010 claim that the report in question “was not considered at the meeting”. The Times of India even goes to the extent of carrying the biased view of an ‘official' verbatim; “state officials attending the meeting said, the environmental sub-committee clearance was crucial because “anti-dam forces” had been pinning hope on recommendations of a recent committee appointed by the Union environment and forests ministry.” One needs to keep in mind that the same newspaper (Times of India) reported on 27th August 2008 that the experts' committee ensued from lobbying by ‘environment lobby,' although the decision to constitute the committee was taken at 46th meeting on Environment Sub Group of NCA.

However, these journalists who willingly flow along with the ‘official' view, don't appear to be asking whether the decision to raise the height met with any dissenting note. There are chances that we would never know, because the ex secretary MoEF, Shree Prodipto Ghosh laid down procedures that even if one/some member/s of the Environment Sub Group had dissent with the decision, s/he/they will not be allowed to share their ‘dissenting views' with media.

What is even more surprising is the fact that not only did the ‘decision' smack of political expediency, it also came close on the hills of two CAG audit reports both critical of the Gujarat Government on environmental and fiscal compliance. It should not betaken to be a mere coincidence that the news release by Press Trust of India on April 01 stated, “A delegation of Congress MPs from Gujarat today met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi with demands for speeding up infrastructure development related to river Narmada” and they sought intervention by Jairam Ramesh “to speed up clearances for the projects at Kevadia under which piers, bridges and gates of the dam are to be constructed”. (see here http://www.ptinews.com/news/592334_Cong-delegation-meets-PM--Sonia-over-Narmada-projects)

The CAG audit report on Gujarat (Civil) reports the findings of Integrated Audit of Forest Department reporting non-compliance on compensatory afforestation. It stated [CAG 2010: 111] “Scrutiny of records of PCCF revealed that since 1980, 14,835 hectare forest land was diverted for which Rs.94.37 crore were recovered from 958 user agencies between 1980 and 2007 as cost towards afforestation. Against the above, afforestation was to be taken up at 32,360 hectare, however, achievement was 24,382 hectare (75 per cent) only. Of Rs.94.37 crore recovered, Rs.40.82 crore was spent on Compensatory Afforestation.”


The CAG audit report on Gujarat (commercial), tabled in assembly  on March 30th also likewise reported how Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited ' the state owned dam building corporation ' violated norms by diverting the central assistance received under Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme [AIBP] on works other than the ‘stated purpose'.


Shouldn't the Environment Sub Group and Ministry of Environment and Forests look into these audit findings on non-compliance on environmental and fiscal matters by SSNNL? Shouldn't they read and interpret these audit remarks ' and SSNNL's unwillingness to file reply on them ' as providing a corollary to the view of theDevedra Pande committee [Dr Devendra Pande is a former Director General of Forest Survey of India] that the permission to raise the height of the dam shall not be granted?

Does the Narmada issue and its emotive appeal in Gujarat predetermine the stylistic and editorial cuts in such a way that ‘an official's version' is zealously embraced, putting aside all the qualms about verifying the truth?

The author work with Environics Trust and has a keen interest in media coverage of environmental issues.