Responsible journalism – New Indian Express style

500 TN women workers rescued from Kerala border, said the news headlines of The New Indian Express daily on December 7th, 2011. Then it went on to say,

In one of the worst incidents of mob frenzy over the ongoing Mullaiperiyar dam safety row, nearly 500 women estate workers from Tamil Nadu were held hostage and some of them allegedly sexually harassed in Idukki district in Kerala on Monday. [link]

This is from the Tamil Nadu edition of the newspaper and reported by someone named Gokul Vannan. As expected, several attacks were followed and directed towards Malayalees in Chennai and Coimbatore. Many Malayalee shops were targeted including Joy Alukkas and K R Bakers in Chennai. Malayalee shop owners in Chennai and Coimbatore are feared for their lives. All because of the news that churned out from a rumor.

The ‘reporter’ obviously must be aware of the tension that exists between Kerala and Tamil Nadu in the name of Mullaperiyar dam. Water is a big issue for the neighbor and compared to an average Malayalee, an average Thamizhan has fairly good respect to women (this of course is valid as long as the women stick to the traditional norms – remember how actress Khushboo had a temple built in her name and then it was brought down to earth when she commented on pre-marital sex?). So any common man can assume the gravity of the issue when the news of Thamizh women being assaulted by Malayalees in the name of Mullaperiyar dam comes to the front. Then why can’t a ‘news reporter’ consider that aspect and treat the news right?

The funny bloody thing is that there was no such incident. There was no such report in the Thamizh and Malayalam regional TV channels. An activist online friend checked with several Malayalam and Thamizh news papers – including The Times of India, The Hindu, Dinamani, Dinakaran, Dinathanthi, Malayala Manorama and Mathrubhoomi – but couldn’t find any source that said so.

From his Google Plus page:

When I contacted Idukki Collector on this issue through a reliable source, I came to know that it was a full-length fabricated story. (Idukki Collector: E Devadasan, ph: 09447032252).

Later, I contacted a friend of mine who is the welfare officer of a tea plantation in Idukki. From his words, I could understand that about 95 percent of the people working in the plantations there were from Tamil Nadu who are still continuing their work.

When I asked about the report to my counterparts in Kerala, I understood that even the Kerala editions of The New Indian Express have not carried the mentioned report.

This is one person who took the effort to confirm the news using his contacts. But our national media houses, CNN-IBN and NDTV, did not take the pain to do a fact check and republished the story with crediting the source to Express News Service.

This is the sad state of affairs with our media. And not an apology, not a word, yet, from either The New Indian Express or from IBN Live and NDTV.

To control or not to control, that is the question!

Every single Malayali is now concerned about Mullaperiyar dam all in a sudden, though the dam has been in (alleged) danger for many years. The proposition from the Keralam side is to lower the water level, decommission the existing dam and build a new one. Why? Because Keralam fears that the dam cannot take a major earthquake and it could cost the lives of people in four districts of Kerala. But the process of building a new dam will take a few years and it remains unclear what guarantee the government will provide that an earthquake during this time will not happen or will not effect the people living in the surrounding towns. Which leads to the question, is the dam really in danger? If so, are the measures being proposed now enough to take care of the threat? Or are there any other motives behind the Keralam proposition? Keralam has also made a ‘generous’ offer to build a new dam at it’s own cost and still provide water to Tamil Nadu (which will transfer the control of the ownership, operation and maintenance of the new dam and it’s surrounding areas from Tamil Nadu to Keralam).

On the other hand, Tamil Nadu claims that the dam is in good shape and it can live longer. World over people are talking about decommissioning dams older than 40-50 years but Tamil Nadu politicians believe that it is not yet time for this 116 year old dam, built with limestone and surki, to rest in pieces. Commonsense would tell us that if not now, a new dam will have to be built sooner or later because this already 116 yrs old dam cannot survive the 999 years of the lease period. Tamil Nadu says that the safety of dam is an important matter to them also, because a burst of dam would affect the irrigation, agriculture and the lives of Tamilians. They also fear that if the new dam and it’s ownership is transferred to Keralam, they may not provide water to them.

But what does the common man learn from the whole issue? Ultimately, the issue of Mullaperiyar is not really about water or the dam’s safety but the ownership of the land. Currently, the ownership of the dam and it’s surroundings belong to the public works department of Tamil Nadu government though the area is in Kerala. Keralam had a good chance to claim it’s ownership of the dam and it’s surroundings when the lease agreement was renewed in 1970. We also had a chance to demand timely revisions of tax/lease rates per acre that Tamil Nadu has to pay. But the short-sightedness, or short-term interests of the government and officials in Keralam back then resulted in the current situation. It is only ourselves (or our politicians) to blame than the neighbor.

So what resolutions can be made now? A political resolution is most unlikely to turn out to be in favor of Keralam because Tamil Nadu has better political negotiation power in the center. Even though Keralam has a couple of Congress ministers in the center, it will be stupid to expect the UPA government to intervene against the interests of both Karunanidhi and Jayalalitha as regional political parties play a big role in the coalition politics in India. If safety is the concern, Keralam should wait for the report of five-member committee appointed by Supreme Court and act accordingly. Meanwhile, we should take measures to handle an emergency situation in the area. If the water supply is the concern to Tamil Nadu, they should ensure the supply through a legal pact with Keralam while making sure of the safety of people and timely decommissioning of the dam. Or if ownership is the real issue behind all this, both states should make it clear and file their claims in the court.

Right now, it doesn’t seem both sides are being honest in their stance.

(Photo courtesy: The Hindu)