MINING BLUES AND ITS MANY HUES: WHEN P.R. GETS IT BADLY WRONG

By Claude Alvares
[EMAIL PROTECTED]

Sujay Gupta's article, 'Green movement has shades of black'
[1] introduces another colour to the Naxalite controversy.
Last week, we were all being called 'red' by the chief of the
'saffron' party, even though what we are attempting to
protect is green.

For heaven's sake, what will they call us next? Yellow? No,
that's reserved exclusively for journalists. 'White' is
trade-marked for 'corporate media consultant' as their
principal business is 'whitewash'. Indigo is the colour of
music, as we all know, so we can safely keep it out. But
purple is the colour of one's face when one finds, like Sujay
Gupta [2] is now discovering, that all his facts are wrong.

That's why he's retired from good journalism as we all know
and practice it.

          This is a guy who came in for our World Environment
          Day function on June 5 at Sulcornem pretending to
          be one of us. When asked, he said he was working
          with Prudent Media. Miguel Braganza says Sujay
          Gupta repeated this when he travelled back with him
          in the car all the way back to Panjim.

In Goa, as generally in India too, we rarely counter-check
credentials. We take people at their word.

The day Seby Rodrigues was attacked as a 'Naxalite', we were
amazed to hear that Sujay Gupta was organizing a press
conference for people from Rivona who would spill to the
journalists the gory details of Seby inciting villagers to
kill policemen.

Disturbed, I called up Arvind Bhatikar, chairperson of
Prudent Media. He informed me that Sujay Gupta was not
employed by Prudent Media and that they had Sandesh
Prabhudesai in charge. He also told me that Sujay was now a
'corporate media consultant'.

I confronted Gupta on the street outside the GUJ (Goa Union
of Journalists) office after the press conference he had
organised. (Miguel and a few of the brethren from the media
were also present.) At this point of time, he flatly denied
any involvement in the press conference "except for sending
out two or three SMS messages."

I got one of those messages, like many other journalists.
Fortunately it has remained un-erased on my cell and so I can
recall it here verbatim: "People of colomb, who were shown
films by sebi rodrigues depicting the killing of policemen by
naxalites will meet the press at the GUJ hall. They will also
spk abt the activities of sebi and his group from jharkhand
in the mining areas. Sujay Gupta."

          Now check the sheer 'quality' of the information
          being purveyed by this former editor and NDTV
          reporter: it emerges that there is no such film at
          all. His "group from jharkhand" is actually a group
          of students from the Nirmala Institute of Social
          Work in Mumbai, doing field-work for their degree
          courses in social work!

Now would you trust a person who lies about his employment,
refuses to disclose his actual employers, and then organizes
press conferences on the basis of fabricated information?
Journalists informed us that prior to the press conference,
Gupta had been carrying around Seby's photograph for
circulation for four days. To what purpose? Ask him!

After the Naxalite bogey burst in Manohar Parrikar's and
Sujay Gupta's face, Gupta has now come up with some new
tactics based on information he has apparently gathered from
the mining companies to whom he has endeared himself.

The title of his article is called "shades of black" but
stops short of the defamatory term "blackmail". The whole
trend of the article is that something unhealthy is going on
which our former hero from NDTV has come here to Goa, like a
new Cervantes, to tilt against. This time he tries to be
authentic and quotes cheque numbers. And what is his story?

Gupta says that Shyamsundar Naik (rudely referred to by him
as a 'fellow') accepted a compensation cheque of Rs.48,000
from one mining company.

Gupta also says that Shyamsundar Naik demanded (and got) Rs.
11,44,000 from the company for a cultural organization headed
by him.

He does not claim that these are illegal sums. He cannot
because they are paid by cheque. Do "blackmailer" accept
money via cheques? Is ransom money paid into kidnappers'
accounts using bank instruments? What world is Sujay Gupta
living in?

But even the "facts" purveyed above are wrong.

Shyamsundar has never accepted any cheque for Rs.48,000 from
any mining company. There is no cheque in the name of
Shyamsundar Naik!

So will our gallant investigative reporter prove what he has
written in black and white or will he have the decency to
apologize?

The correct fact is that the mining company paid out not Rs.
48,000 but Rs.33.75 lakhs to 43 people (in sums varying from
Rs.48,000 to Rs.54,000) as compensation for pollution, for
damage to their paddy fields and livelihood. Shyamsundar's
name is not to be found in the list of 43 people compensated.

Here is an outright admission of liability by mining
companies -- who in Gupta's perception are doing 'good'
mining, who compensate people officially by cheque for
destroying their livelihood and village environment.

          When Shyamsundar Naik first came to my office to
          seek help from the Goa Foundation for the torture
          wrought on his village Advalpal by the three mining
          companies in the neighbourhood, he showed me the
          details of the payments before he even told me his
          story. He was contrite. He said for two years they
          moved every authority, including Deputy Collector
          Arvind Bugde. Nobody came to help them. In
          desperation, the people decided to accept monetary
          compensation. They needed something to stay alive.
          But realizing that as the condition of their lands
          worsened and their water dried up altogether, they
          would soon be forced to abandon their village, they
          decided to stay put and fight. Would the Goa
          Foundation help them with understanding their legal
          rights and what the laws of the land demand from
          the conduct of mining operators?

I was appalled not because the villagers had accepted money
but because they had compromised their futures for so little!
Here were companies destroying their life and livelihood,
their village, its water-bodies, their paddy fields and
nullahs; responsible, in addition, for a devastating flood in
2000; and they had settled for Rs.48,000! Were they out of
their mind?

Acceptance of compensation for damage caused is the second
best option afforded to us by the law when someone has done
us irreparable harm. The first (and best) option is a suit
for closure of the mine and punitive damages in crores.

However, we do not live in the best of all possible worlds.
We live in a world where a Sujay Gupta does not ask why a
mining company would pay Rs.33.75 lakhs to 43 people if all
that the company had done was right, proper and legal. He
feels that people should suffer and allow themselves to be
ground into the mud and take suffering caused by mining with
a smile and a laugh. They are after all helping the nation
and the nation's (and China's) economy! How dare they ask for
money! Did he ask for compensation when he was editor of GT?
Not at all, he worked there for free!

Sujay Gupta wants to know how the sum of Rs.11,44,000 -- also
recorded in the memorandum of agreement as compensation for
pollution and damages -- paid to the Varchawada Samiti was
utilised. First of all, who is he to ask? Who has paid him to
ask this question? Nobody has any right to ask any person or
organization how they have spent -- if they indeed have --
their (undervalued) compensation money. This is adding insult
to injury. Why does he not ask instead where our 40 thieves
spend the money that they loot daily from the public
exchequer. Or where the mine owners spend the money they
raise -- running into crores -- from their illegal mines.

At the end, Gupta asks for a "mature" debate on mining.
Mature debates can only be held with mature journalists, not
immature hacks.

[1] http://www.mail-archive.com/goanet@lists.goanet.org/msg31538.html
[2] Sujay Gupta, [EMAIL PROTECTED]

Reply via email to