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Real Gujarat: An Underreported Story

   

Last updated Wednesday July 06, 2016

  Media, Gujarat, Water, Development  
 
vast majority of Indian doctors are working for the private sector or as freelancers. In such a set-up, you are constantly fighting with your colleagues for work in a "market". Markets are good, but only if properly controlled, and with some oversight from the regulators. The problem of this market is that there are little controls and the regulators (Medical Council of India and State Councils) have largely proved to be ineffective.  - See more at: http://www.aaandolan.com/post/23/Ethics-in-Medical-Profession#sthash.qUtzIowb.dpuf
vast majority of Indian doctors are working for the private sector or as freelancers. In such a set-up, you are constantly fighting with your colleagues for work in a "market". Markets are good, but only if properly controlled, and with some oversight from the regulators. The problem of this market is that there are little controls and the regulators (Medical Council of India and State Councils) have largely proved to be ineffective.  - See more at: http://www.aaandolan.com/post/23/Ethics-in-Medical-Profession#sthash.qUtzIowb.dpuf
vast majority of Indian doctors are working for the private sector or as freelancers. In such a set-up, you are constantly fighting with your colleagues for work in a "market". Markets are good, but only if properly controlled, and with some oversight from the regulators. The problem of this market is that there are little controls and the regulators (Medical Council of India and State Councils) have largely proved to be ineffective.  - See more at: http://www.aaandolan.com/post/23/Ethics-in-Medical-Profession#sthash.qUtzIowb.dpuf
vast majority of Indian doctors are working for the private sector or as freelancers. In such a set-up, you are constantly fighting with your colleagues for work in a "market". Markets are good, but only if properly controlled, and with some oversight from the regulators. The problem of this market is that there are little controls and the regulators (Medical Council of India and State Councils) have largely proved to be ineffective.  - See more at: http://www.aaandolan.com/post/23/Ethics-in-Medical-Profession#sthash.qUtzIowb.dpuf
India goes to the polls on April 7. With innumerable promises and unreal stories by politicians flying in the air, India sees no end to the Politics of betrayal. BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, who as chief minister of Gujarat resorted to Gujarat Satya Samachar to show the slightly critical Gujarati media its place and succeeded in arm-twisting it, has been resorting to less satya (truth) in his electioneering. Just to illustrate, during his trip to the north-eastern states, he did not mention his support for either large hydro projects or interlinking of rivers across India, which are facing huge opposition in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and many other states. Most of India's mainstream media, however, has a blind eye to all these that goes against its desired spirit of an impartial watchdog.
 
Himanshu Thakkar  
   

It seems large part of the mainstream national media have gone underground these days. If you view most English news channels and some Hindi ones or most English and Hindi newspapers, you will suddenly find a proliferation of reports favouring Narendra Modi and the BJP. The repeated highlighting of doctored pre-poll analysis without attempts to do an in-depth investigation into the credentials of the agencies doing such predictions is only one troublesome part. But even in reporting the news, there is a clearly discernible pro-BJP tendency and an attempt to blackout, under-report or misreport news about the BJP’s rivals, particularly news about the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). This was most evident in reporting AAP’s trip to Gujarat in the first week of March.

 

Any objective viewer will have no doubts that AAP’s trip punctured the well-crafted balloon of Gujarat’s development image. To many Gujaratis like me, this was not such big breaking news. The media, that is supposed to report realities in an objective manner, should have been happy reporting this significant development. Arvind Kejriwal’s hour-long speech in Ahmedabad at a hugely attended meeting should have been reported extensively. Strangely, large parts of the mainstream media, both print and electronic, almost blacked this out.

This, no doubt, reflected poorly on the media that has been accepting the claims of Modi and the BJP as gospel truth. An independent media should have exposed the reality of these claims on its own through trips like the one the AAP members made. The speech in Ahmedabad on 8 March was a good opportunity for the media to correct its own failure. Instead, by not reporting or under- reporting or misreporting, the media has further discredited itself.

This reminds me of an episode in Gujarat not long ago. “One morning some years ago, Gujarat’s residents found a newspaper on their doorstep. They hadn’t subscribed to it, and it carried a vaguely familiar masthead. It was called Gujarat Satya Samachar (literally meaning True News of Gujarat), to make it resemble the state’s largest circulated newspaper, Gujarat Samachar. It was produced by Gujarat’s information department (a portfolio held by Chief Minister Narendra Modi) and contained reports of the state government’s achievements,” wrote Aakar Patel, former editor of Divya Bhaskar (the Gujarati edition from the Bhaskar group) in his column in Mint on 1 March. 

The reason the state government resorted to bring out Gujarat Satya Samachar was “the belief that the local media was either suppressing stories about the government’s successes or was critical of Modi to the point of antagonism.” The Gujarat Satya Samachar did not last more than a couple of issues since the Gujarati media quickly fell in line, the way the government wanted it to. In fact, this episode should not give readers the misleading picture that the Gujarati media was depicting the realities of Gujarat’s development before the government resorted to Gujarat Satya Samachar. Far from it.

While travelling through various parts of Gujarat, I have seen the frustration of the aam Gujarati about the way the state is ruled since the past decade and more. Repeatedly, during my numerous trips to the state, common people on the street have told me about corruption, the breakdown of regular basic facilities like schooling (everyone, it seems, has to go for tuition). “Then what are the schools for?” one frustrated auto-rickshaw driver told me. There are complaints about electricity and water and the pro-big industries bias of the state establishment. Intellectuals and independent observers have talked about the huge gap between the claims of the state government of Gujarat and the stark reality for long.

Ahmedabad is supposed to be shining with the development of the Sabaramati riverfront. But if you go a dozen kilometres upstream or downstream you realise that this is just for the benefit of the city’s real estate developers. The state of the river elsewhere is as bad as the Yamuna in Delhi. Even the water you see flowing in the Sabarmati is through a fraud.  This water is from the Narmada project. Not a drop from it was planned or allocated for Ahmedabad city or the Sabarmati river.

The project was proposed and justified for drought-prone areas of Kutch, Saurashtra and north Gujarat. They are not getting this water. Instead, the farmers of Saurashtra are fighting FIRs and cases for using Narmada water! Farmers everywhere feel discriminated against when the state government favours big industries at their expense and without transparency or due justice or their participation. The tribal belt is not only neglected, it is facing the prospect of more and more displacement and deforestation in the name of dams, river-linking projects, industrial zones and corridors.

While travelling through tribal areas near the Sardar Sarovar dam, Savitaben Tadvi of Indravarna village told us about the repression they faced while peacefully opposing the Garudeshwar dam on the Narmada river, which has neither any valid approval nor any impact assessment or consent from the affected villages located upstream or downstream. Lakhan Musafir of Umarva village took us to the washed-out portion below the Sardar Sarovar dam, including the viewer’s park, about which there is so little information in the public domain. Rohit Prajapati of the Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, showing the proposed site of the Statue of Unity, publicised as the world’s highest statue, just downstream of the Sardar Sarovar dam, related how the foundation stone was laid on 31 October 2013 by arresting the tribals peacefully opposing the project that neither has any impact assessment, nor any of the statutorily required approvals. As Nandini Oza, after travelling for over 1,000 km in Gujarat recently said, “You can actually smell development at Vapi, Ankleshwar, Baroda and several other industrial areas!”

BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, who as chief minister, resorted to Gujarat Satya Samachar to show the slightly critical Gujarati media its place and succeeded in arm-twisting them, has been resorting to less satya (truth) in his electioneering. Just to illustrate, during his trip to the north-eastern states, he did not mention his support for either large hydro projects or interlinking of rivers, which are facing huge opposition in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and other states.

But during his speech the following week on 26 February in Madhya Pradesh, he talked about the northeast region being “heaven for hydro power generation.” In that same state of Madhya Pradesh, his party’s chief minister flashed full-page advertisements (at public expense) for three straight days about the Narmada Kshipra link as the harbinger of the ILR dream of former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. In reality, it is just a pipeline water supply project with questionable viability and justifiability, without even impact assessment or participation of the people of the Narmada or Malwa region. There is already opposition to the project from farmers of the Narmada Valley.

The trouble is, a large part of mainstream media has blacked out all this critical news.  This situation is no doubt very bad for Indian democracy. As a senior journalist from a financial paper told me, whenever there is an extraordinarily positive report about any company or political party, the first question that arises is: how much has the reporter been paid to write such a story! Media should be wary of such a perception.

[Himanshu THakkar is with South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP). He works primarily on water issues with special focus on issues associated with large dams.]

 
   
 

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