Monday, January 22, 2007

Singur: The Hindu responds, partly

It was a pleasant surprise to find the Reader’s Editor of The Hindu responding to the accusations made in my previous post on Singur/Nandigram. Thanks to Desicritics, Desipundit and Blogbharati for extending the reach of the post.

I came across some interesting comments on some published letters on the Singur/Nandigram land acquisition controversy in West Bengal. A letter referred to "rumours of land acquisition" while the same issue of the paper carried the news of the Chief Minister admitting that the Haldia Development Authority had issued a notice to acquire land. This "factual inaccuracy" is explained by the time gap between the processing of letters and placing them on the page, which is done early in the day, and the news development and its reporting.

Along with this comment came the observation that all the letters The Hindu carried were from "non-Bengal locations," 2000 km from West Bengal. This is strange: is it the argument that only residents of a State can comment on developments within that State? The spread of the paper's readership is known. It is only natural that the letters originate mostly from this readership.

The first explanation is accepted. With regard to the second, my major contention was that the Letters to the Editor should be a representation of the people’s perspective on the issue. It should give voice to dissent and avoid reiteration of the newspapers’s stand, something which has been agreed in the above column.

But that process should not muffle or distort the voice of the people, which the column presents. The letter appears under the contributor's name and should reflect the original as faithfully as possible. Variety in style should be the spice of this column, not rewritten uniformity. They should not become opinion manufactured in-house — that some newspapers are said to do, and a charge a couple of readers laid against The Hindu too.

Priority should be given to alternative opinions. After all, we see newspaper as a source of information; not as a snap poll on the agreement or otherwise of its readers to its views.

I never questioned the liberty of non-residents of the state from commenting. What my concern was that, if the selection of the letters carried atleast a few from the state, it would have been a better reflection of what people at the ground zero think. I am not convinced with the cover of “spread of the paper's readership”. Yes, we all know that The Hindu has a better readership in South India. But I am sure it enjoys a respectable readership in Kolkatta, if not in the whole of West Bengal. A letter or two from there would have extended some credibility to the column.

Finally, one of the commentators on the Singur post at Desicritics wondered if “The Hindu puts doctored or manufactured letters under Letters to the Editor.” I confidently responded that “I don't think The Hindu would stoop so low to doctor letters, though from my personal experience, I know that they do reduce the length of letters.

Today’s column eroded my confidence when it admitted that a two-sentence letter was re-phrased and published in a manner that the “printed version had no resemblance to the original”. Retrospectively, the Editor-in-Chief feels that instead of “sanitizing”, the letter should have been "dumped". So while The Hindu clamors for freedom of expression, even if it means protection of dubious finance companies, it itself would never grant the same.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Singur : The Emperors Have No Cloths

How much more will The Hindu defend the Marxist Government of West Bengal? For over a month, the campaign to paint the Marxist Government white has breached all decent limits of “fearless unbiased” reporting. As pointed out in my previous post, not content with the 22 pages it has everyday, The Hindu also wants to use the tiny “Letter to the Editor” column to propagate or rather thrust upon its views. Similar to the cry of Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee that since all the available land is under cultivation, they are forced to encroach upon agriculture land for industrialization, The Hindu seems to say that since all the available space is either filled with news or advertisements (or even Rs 13-per-Sq-cm obituaries), it has no option but to forcibly intrude into the only available space on the paper – “Letters to the Editor”.

Look at this piece that was published two days ago.

"The report that six persons died in clashes in Nandigram, West Bengal, following rumours of land acquisition for a Special Economic Zone, is disturbing."

“Rumors”? What rumors? When you turn two pages you find this article where, Mr. Bhattacharjee admitted that the Haldia Development Authority did issue a notice to acquire land and the said authority is headed by a CPI(M) MP. Why publish letters that are factually incorrect?

Incidentally, all the letters are from people who are more that 2000 kms from West Bengal. What a representative collection of letters!

As if that was not enough, yesterday’s edition carries another letter toeing the line of The Hindu and coming from a non-West Bengal location.

“The death of six persons in clashes instigated by some organisations in Nandigram is unfortunate. The fact that these organisations played up rumours of land acquisition saying the West Bengal Government had issued eviction notices, when the reality is that it has not even completed the identification of lands, shows their vested interest.”

The other letter in the column too supports the Marxists. Readers often look towards the letters to learn the dissenting or the alternative points of view. In the first place, the reporting on the Singur issue has been very one-sided. Ms. Medha Patkar and Ms. Arundhati Roy, who usually get lavish space, are now given single-column insignificant coverage. By publishing letters that just mimic the articles, The Hindu is forcing regular readers like me to look for alternative sources of news.

The fine line between your beliefs and the truth is always sacrosanct. In this editorial, where they term Mamata Banerjee’s fast as “high-wire theatrics” and “meaningless”, has breached that line. The editorial, which also commends Mr. Bhattacharjee’s handling of the issue, give us an FAQ on Singur.

“What are the key facts about Singur? The State Government went about acquiring the land sought by Tata Motors not by dispossessing the people on the highly fragmented land, but by seeking their consent through offering compensation that was significantly higher than the market price.”

The moot issue is not the price but the consent of the landowners and rehabilitation and that has been consciously eclipsed.

The biggest lie that Chief Minister Bhattacharjee has been repeatedly telling is that the lands have been acquired with the consent of the landowners. But the “Final Report on Singur” which available on the website of West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation reveals a different story.

“Consent under section 11(2) is a means of involvement of the citizen in determination of award. However, non-submission of consent in writing in terms of Section 11(2) does not prevent the Collector from declaring the award and acquiring the land. For those landowners who do not submit consent in writing under Section 11 (2), the Collector shall proceed under Section 11(1) and declare the award and such awardees will not receive the additional 10%.”

Hence, irrespective of the landowner’s consent, the lands have been acquired by the West Bengal Government. The consents that were obtained before the calculation of award are called “Pre-Award Consents”, which is quite logical. The “consents” of those who have not given their consent are called “Post-Award Consents”. It is by using such oxymoronic phrases, Chief Minister Bhattacharjee is shouting from the rooftop that he has got the consent of the landowners.

The Pre-Award Consents get 10% additional money for kowtowing the Communists. When people have finally realized that irrespective of their consent, they are losing their land, they decided that they would rather give their consent to gain the additional 10%. This is quite natural and has obviously happened.

“But even after Declaration of the Award, many persons came forward with the appeal that due to various reasons and constraints, they could not submit the consent in writing for compensation before the date of Declaration of Award. They submitted applications requesting that they may also be paid the additional 10%.”

Predictably, the report is silent on proportion of Pre-Award and Post-Award consents. Incidentally, the third page of the report mentions Important Provisions of the Land Acquisition Act 1894:

The first one under that is:

“Section 4: By publication of notification in the official gazette, two dailies (including one in regional language) and by publication of public notice of the substance of such notification in the locality, the Collector notifies the intention of the Government to take specified lands for any public purpose.”

When did setting up of private industries become a “public purpose”? The self-proclaimed labour-friendly Government has not given any guarantee that the displaced would be employed in the proposed factory. The argument of generating employment seems hollow considering the past record of the Tatas at Pimpri, Pune.

“The Tata's Indica project, comparable to Singur was established as an extension to its initial car-truck and other production enterprise, in Pimpri, Pune. Tatas were given 188 acres of land possessed by Pimpri Housing and Area Development Corporation that was supposed to be used for housing of labourers in the industrial belt. ……

….. no one from about only 125 families who lost their land for the project is employed in the factory which is highly mechanised and have altogether only 300 employees. Telco has anyway slashed about 10,000 and more jobs during last 4 years and Tata Steels downsized its workplace by 30,000 during one decade, as per estimate."

The Left which supported the principle of land-for-land rehabilitation in Narmada Valley and elsewhere, is dispensing the present oustees with cash. With little investment opportunities, lack of alternative skills and the temptation of demonstrative consumption, they are soon going to become impoverished slum dwellers. Just the way numerous tribals ousted from Srisailam are found begging and selling earbuds on the crossroads of Hyderabad.

Much has been made out of the Mr. Bhattacharjee’s repeated offers to Ms. Mamata Banerjee, in a “civil tone”, to discuss the issues and his decision to set up a consultative mechanism within the Left Front has been recommended to be emulated by others. If the intentions of Mr. Bhattacharjee are truly as angelic as it is being projected, then why isn’t he allowing Ms. Medha Patkar to visit Singur? If the Chief Minister’s claims that there is absolute consensus in the land acquisition among the land holders, then why did he confine Ms. Medha Patkar to a youth hostel in Salt Lake? Wasn’t the State Police well-equipped to handle even 1% of the dissenting local population? It was the same CM who gleefully invited the media to show the vandalism caused by the Trinamool legislators in the Assembly.

Mr. Bhattacharjee, is not just re-inventing Marxism in economic terms, but also in political terms. He is adopting the same tricks which his so-called arch rivals, the capitalists use. The Singur media blockade and the extended videography of broken furniture in the West Bengal Assembly are the pointers towards manipulative dissemination of information. Even the majority of Pre-Award consents, happen to be sourced from the members of Gram Panchayat [predominantly manned by their own party workers] and not the Gram Sabha.

Religion, something which the Communist never recognize, too, is being use. At Nandigram, Mr. Bhattacharjee sought to take refuge under Jamait Ulema-i-Hind. It is not surprising as saffron and red have very similar wavelengths.

With so much going on, The Hindu, has been publishing one-sided stories which have become a joke on journalism. A sample.

“West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said here on Tuesday that a notification issued by the Haldia Development Authority….”
Said? I thought he admitted that the notification was issued. Admitted because he was consistently denying any such move, even when six persons were killed. But how can Buddhadeb or for that matter any Marxist be wrong in the eyes of The Hindu. And when they are not wrong, what can they admit?

He goes on to say that the notification was “used by certain forces to create confusion in the minds of the locals to incite them to violence.” But a few lines down the article he contradicts himself saying “Confusion among the local people is only natural if such a document from a State agency is brought to their notice.” Mr. Bhattacharjee, please clarify if the confusion was incited or natural? I am confused more than the locals. Or is it that you yourself are confused?

And it seems that the unbiased the reporting of “The Hindu” has forgotten to mention in the article that the head of the Haldia Development Authority is a CPI(M) MP, Lakshman Seth. So Mr. Bhattacharjee, what we need is not an All-Party Meet which you want to convene, but please convene your own party meet or atleast a meeting of your legislators and parliamentarians. May be they will clear (y)our confusion.

It is high-time that the Marxists and their unofficial Media Partner realize that the emperor is wearing no cloths.

Crossposted at Desicritics.