Lokmat Editor Raju Nayak “flexed muscle” against RTI activists

Mayabhushan Nagvenkar, Goa correspondent of The Pioneer, New Delhi reports from capital Panaji:

Editor of Marathi daily under court scanner for ‘scuttling’ graft probe

An editor of a popular multi-edition Marathi newspaper has been involved in using threats and complainants to scuttle legal proceedings in a case involving misappropriation of public funds, a Goa court has said.

The startling observations were made by special sessions judge Nutan Sardessai in her order allowing complainants Kashinath Shetye and Ketan Govekar, incidentally both Right to Information (RTI) activists, to intervene in the anticipatory bail case of an ex-committee member of an educational trust that has been accused of misappropriating Rs 21 lakh of public funds.

“The powerful and politically connected persons of the School Trust/Society and the editor of Lokmat, Raju Nayak, either flexed their muscle to instil fear in their minds or otherwise tried to entice or lure them with promises of rewards in the event they comply in order to scuttle the legal proceedings,” Sardessai said in her order, which has come as a shocker for the media fraternity here.

“The problem of misappropriation of public funds in Goa is on the rise, a threat of immeasurable gravity, threatening the future of the Government and the society and much more so when an educational establishment, teachers and officials of the police of the State are inextricably entangled in corruption to protect them and to facilitate their functioning. The interveners are receiving threats periodically on phone to withdraw the application. Even the editor of Lokmat, Raju Nayak is involved,” Sardessai further said.

The order also states that two complainants had not only been threatened and induced, but also harassed, put “under private surveillance” and were “constantly followed”.

“The authorities concerned for extraneous reasons and/or for illegal benefit/gratification from the proceeds are turning a blind eye to the illegalities and also to their complaint. The police are pressurized into inaction which is apparent from their refusal to act since 2009 and hesitating to arrest powerful politicians who are in fact the primary accused in the matter,” the court further said.

Sawant, an ex-committee member of the trust running the Shri Durga English School of Pernem, 30 kms from here, had filed for anticipatory bail after a criminal complaint accused trust officials of misappropriating Rs 21 lakh from a Rs 36 lakh Government loan.

Lokmat is a popular Marathi daily which runs several editions in Maharashtra, including one in Goa.

When asked for comment on the court order, Lokmat’s group editor Dinkar Raikar did not respond.

India’s Info Commission: Parking lots for retired civil servants & govt. fixers

Information commissions in India male-dominated: study

The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) has released a study that takes stock of the functioning of the information commissions in India, which it said are male-dominated and far away from meeting their full potential.

The study, A Rapid Study of Information Commissions – Established Under the Right to Information Laws in India, was released on the eve of the seventh anniversary of the passage of the Right to Information Act (RTI Act) in parliament, on May 12.

CHRI’s research team conducted a quick study of the membership of all 29 information commissions (including that of Jammu and Kashmir established under the J&K RTI Act in 2010) against seven parameters.

The findings show that information commissions are far away from meeting their full potential and are male-dominated. Not one woman of eminence has been appointed chief information commissioner anywhere in India. Less than 15 percent of the information commissioners were women.

At least 30 percent of the posts of information commissioners around the country were lying vacant as on May 1, 2012. This includes posts of state chief information commissioner posts in Maharashtra, Manipur and Tripura. Only 83 information commissioners and chief information commissioners had been appointed against 117 posts all over the country. The state information commissions of Jharkhand (six), Tamil Nadu (four) Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh (three each) top the vacancy list.

In 2006-07, a little more than half of the posts in information commissions were occupied by retired civil servants. In 2012, two-thirds of these posts had been cornered by retired civil servants, particularly those from the Indian Administrative Service (IAS). The case of Haryana is even more interesting as 50 percent of the membership of the Haryana state information commission is made up of a husband-and-wife team that retired from the IAS.

The J&K state information commission is the only multi-member body to buck the trend of having retired IAS officers on board.

Less than 10 percent of the information commissioners are from the field of journalism and mass media. Governments seem reluctant to trust the eminence and expertise of citizens who have never been civil servants in their lives.

Of serious concern is the fact that three information commissioners served as members of political parties prior to their appointment (in Kerala, Nagaland and Punjab). The RTI Act bars members of the information commissions from being affiliated to political parties. It is not known whether they resigned from the primary membership of the political party before taking on their current jobs.

All information commissions except that of Mizoram have dedicated websites but less than 50 percent of them have uploaded their decisions in appeals and complaints cases disposed until date. Similarly, more than 50 percent of the state information commissions do not display the cause list of cases on their websites. Section 25 of the Central RTI Act makes it mandatory for information commissions to prepare annual reports on the implementation of the law in their jurisdiction. The state information commissions of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, Sikkim and Tamil Nadu have not uploaded any annual report on their website until date.

While underlining the need for governments at the central and state level to work closely with advocators of transparency to assess the pendency of cases in the information commissions, CHRI Director Maja Daruwala stated, “The size of the information commission should be determined on the basis of objective criteria”. She also stated, “Public access to all decisions of information commissions must become the policy instead of being left to the caprice of the information commissioners.”

Venkatesh Nayak, programme coordinator at the Access to Information Programme, who led the CHRI research team stated, “Governments and civil society must work together to identify objective criteria for determining the suitability of candidates other than retired civil servants for appointment to the information commissions. The RTI Act intended to provide a diversity of life experience to such bodies from the fields of science, technology, law, management, social service and mass media whereas practice has turned them into parking lots for retired civil servants who are sympathetic to the political establishment.

‘Mai Boli’, keeping Marathi alive in Jerusalem

In his Marathi quarterly magazine, Mai Boli (My Mother Tongue), Massil writes: “I want to be happy,/but my heart is not happy./ Why?/ I remember India./ Here, nothing is missing,/but always I remember you, India.”

One house in the hills of Ramot in Northwest Jerusalem stands out from others. On its lawn, the Indian tricolor takes its place alongside the blue and white flag of Israel. Inside the house lives a portly, friendly, Marathi Jew named Noah Massil and his wife Sybia.

Now 65, the one time Mumbai electrician, and long time president of the Central Organization of Indian Jews, immigrated to Israel in 1970. Most of the Maharashtra-rooted Bene Israel community, to which Massil belongs, came here on the heels of Israel’s victorious Six Day War in 1967. They are by far the largest of the three Indian émigré groups that together number around 75,000. Jews from Cochin and the Baghdadis from Calcutta mainly, are the other two. There are perhaps 30,000 Bene Israel, but estimates vary. Some put the figure much higher.

In a country where immigrants often cut ties definitively to their native lands, Massil and his wife, like many in his community, return every year to visit old friends, places from their youth. In one of his poems for his Marathi quarterly magazine, Mai Boli (My Mother Tongue), Massil writes: “I want to be happy,/but my heart is not happy./ Why?/ I remember India./ Here, nothing is missing,/but always I remember you, India.”

“We publish seasonal stories, first person stories, poems about India and about Israel,” he says.

Massil himself is the author of two books of Marathi poetry, Kawya Nad (1970) andMazi Mai Marathi (2002). Though its subscriber base, at just over 500, is modest, it was praised by Madhav Gadkari, the late editor of the Marathi daily, Loksatta, as “a bridge between Israel and all Marathi speakers,” deserving “to be saluted for their contribution in strengthening bonds between India, Israel and abroad.”

There are no Marathi classes in Israel, even in places like Ashdod, where the Bene Israel community is strong. The young are too busy assimilating. The job of preserving the Marathi language and culture is left to the old.

But Massil isn’t complaining.

Read the full article in Little India: Keeping Marathi Alive in Jerusalem

Horn Bajane Ki Bimari : A novel social campaign spreads all over Maharashtra!

Social campaign titled Horn Bajane Ki Bimari, began the initiative in Nagpur that gradually covered the state of Maharashtra across Aurangabad, Ahmednagar, Nasik, Jalgaon, Mumbai, Pune, Kolhapur and Solapur.

Started in Nagpur, the social campaign called Horn Bajane Ki Bimari soon became a state wide initiative receiving recognition from senior officials in the administration and the police force as well.

Many complain. Few act. Lokmat Media has taken up a cause that has long irritated citizens – unnecessary, excessive honking on the streets. With a social campaign titled Horn Bajane Ki Bimari, Lokmat Media began the initiative in Nagpur that gradually covered the state of Maharashtra across Aurangabad, Ahmednagar, Nasik, Jalgaon, Mumbai, Pune, Kolhapur and Solapur.

The objective behind the campaign was to educate the people about the ill effects of honking that adversely affect the physical and mental health of the people, particularly in the metros and Tier II cities of the country.

To create curiosity, Lokmat launched a teaser campaign across media posing the question – ‘Are you suffering from HBKB (Horn Bajane Ki Bimari)?’, ‘Have you got yourself treated for HBKB?’ and ‘Stop the spread of HBKB’.

Having generated interest about the ‘disease’, Horn Bajane Ki Bimari was revealed on a single day on all media across Maharashtra. Lokmat Group Publications carried a two-page innovative jacket about HBKB, detailing the ill effects of excessive honking.

With the initiative being noticed in Nagpur, the campaign spread across the state on the request of corporators from the respective cities.

The teaser was first launched in Nagpur on March 29 and the campaign was revealed on April 8. In other cities, the teaser released on April 16 and the complete campaign on April 25.

The campaign has been welcomed by the common man as well as municipal corporation chiefs, seniors in the police force and politicians.

The campaign has been backed by editorial content and field activities, too. People were appealed to pledge their stand against HBKB by sending text messages to a short code.

Among other on-ground activities, one involved employees of Lokmat coming together at each unit, vowing to shun honking. Group photographs of the same were published in the Lokmat publications to drive the message to the masses. About one lakh bumper stickers were printed and pasted on vehicles, too.

Students from prominent schools and colleges also were approached, making the youth a part of the campaign. Signature campaigns were also launched across the state involving citizens, mayors, collectors and police commissioners.

The campaign has been supported across media by Bright Outdoor (OOH), Radio Mirchi (radio) and IBN Lokmat (television). Lokmat Media also took the campaign to its digital properties such as Lokmat.com, Lokmat on Facebook and Twitter.

Devendra Darda, managing director, Lokmat Media dedicates the success of the campaign to the people of Maharashtra and also expects that the campaign will make people think twice before honking and help to bring down noise pollution in the state.

Mandir Tendolkar, vice-president, marketing, Lokmat Media tells afaqs! that the campaign’s success was further triggered by the way the marketing and editorial worked together.

Tendolkar adds that having taken the thought leadership, Lokmat Media will ensure that the campaign continues further to keep the issue relevant and fresh in people’s minds. (courtesy:  Biprorshee Das & afaqs!)

For me though, nothing beats the ‘alphonso’ mango!

 writes in theguardian blog:

As anyone who’s tasted an Alphonso mango knows, its short season, from now until the end of June, is a major cause for celebration. Often making an appearance on “1,000 things to eat before you die”-type lists, this Indian variety has become more and more popular in UK..

…Alphonso is named after Afonso de Albuquerque, a nobleman and military expert who helped establish the Portuguese colony in India. It was the Portuguese who introduced grafting on mango trees to produce extraordinary varieties like Alphonso. The fruit was then introduced to the Konkan region in Maharashtra, Gujarat and parts of south India.

…A national obsession in India on a par with Bollywood and cricket, the start of the mango season signals the beginning of summer and makes headlines. Newspapers give continuous updates on prices and availability. It’s customary to send boxes of Alphonso mangoes to friends, colleagues and bosses as a mark of love and respect; and many courier companies in India even offer a separate mango delivery service.

Many Indians eat little more than the fruit for breakfast, lunch and dinner during its short season. In Mumbai, top restaurants put on mango festivals, and street vendors sell freshly squeezed mango juice. Indians celebrate with “mango parties”, using the fruit in dishes such as pakoras, curries, mango leather, drinks like lassi and falooda, sweetmeats likebarfi and desserts such as shrikhand.

Spring brings many delicious things to eat – rhubarb, asparagus, wild garlic and the first broad beans. For me though, nothing beats the Alphonso mango.

Read the full article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2012/apr/27/do-you-know-alphonso-mango

‘cotton for my shroud’ film says, govt.,mncs & media responsible for farmer’s suicide

Nandan Saxena and Kavita Bahl’s Cotton For My Shroud is an honest and heart-wrenching account of the hapless condition of Vidarbha‘s farmers

The husband-wife duo Nandan Saxena and Kavita Bahl, armed with a camera and “an iron soul”, set forth to Vidarbha to film the stories of farmer families who had lost their sons, brothers and husbands to suicides due to mounting debts, to render visible the issues of the marginalised small farmer and bring back into focus the forgotten stories of Vidarbha’s farmer suicides.

 “Since 1995, a quarter of a million Indian farmers have committed suicide, most of whom were cotton farmers from Vidarbha in Maharashtra,”

inform the filmmakers.

The couple began filming “Cotton For My Shroud” in 2006 when Vidarbha had recorded the highest number of suicides. They were supported in their endeavour by Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti, an NGO actively involved in advocacy on farmers’ issues.

The couple hold the government, multinational corporations and even certain sections of the media responsible for the condition of the cotton farmers in Vidarbha.

“The farmers felt betrayed by the government extension agencies that are supposed to guide the farmers, they feel violated by the multinational corporations that are poisoning their land with chemicals, and genetically modified cotton seeds that do not live up to the tall claims made by Monsanto. They have lost respect for the media too for they feel that most of the media has been bought over by powerful politicians and multinationals.”

Nandan Saxena and Kavita Bahl

"Cotton For My Shroud"'s filmmakers Nandan Saxena and Kavita Bahl

The suicide of a farmer wasn’t just another statistic for them, but a precious life lost due to faulty government paradigms. It took them almost five-and-a-half years to put the film together. “It was difficult to bury the ghosts and sweep the film under the carpet, as if nothing had ever goaded us to visit Vidarbha. We owed a lot to the people who had opened their hearts and hearths to two outsiders in their moment of grief. We could not betray their trust. As we previewed and digitised the footage, we re-lived the horror that had unfolded before our eyes in 2006,” write the former journalists in an email interview.

In “Cotton…”, the line “If one farmer kills himself, we can call it a suicide. But when a quarter of a million kill themselves, how can the government call it suicide? It is genocide,” reveals that justice delayed is no less a crime. “Torn between aggressive marketing of supposedly ‘better varieties’ of transgenic crops by the State and his traditional wisdom of low-cost and eco-friendly agriculture, the farmer is forced to buy BT cotton, which results in an unending cycle of debt.”

“Cotton…” won the Rajat Kamal for the Best Investigative Film at the 59th National Film Awards. But the government-funded Mumbai International Film Festival (MIFF), the couple inform, chose not to show it. They had even organised a special screening for parliamentarians at the Constitution Club, for which they had invited the parliamentary standing committees on agriculture and rural development.

“Only Basudev Acharya had attended the screening; the other MPs were too busy to watch it.” Nandan and Kavita faced many daunting challenges while filming “Cotton…”. “The shopkeepers and agents of Monsanto-Mahyco were hostile but could not do much to stop us. The police and the Guardian Minister of Yavatmaal district did their best to stop us from going to film the funeral of Dinesh Gugul at Village Mendoli. He was killed when the police opened fire at the farmers at the Cotton Mandi at Wani, on 6 December 2006. We argued with the police officers, but the seasoned, shrewd police-wallahs sent us to the Mandi where an angry mob of farmers charged at us and almost smashed our camera. We were asked to meet the Guardian Minister at the Circuit House. As soon as we entered the Circuit House, a curfew was clamped at Wani. We finally reached Mendoli, defying the curfew.”

The couple has contacted schools and colleges to screen the film and attempts are being made at translating “Cotton…” into other regional languages. “We are trying to raise some contributions for making the Marathi and Hindi versions of the film to take it to the villages where we filmed. There is a demand for Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Odiya versions as well.” (courtesy: SRAVASTI DATTA & The Hindu)

“Sparshdnyan” changing the lives of blind students

Parimala Bhat reads Sparshdnyan, one of the world’s few newspapers to cater to the visually impaired.

Parimala Bhat reads Sparshdnyan, one of the world’s few newspapers to cater to the visually impaired.

From delicious billion-dollar scandals to uplifting tales of the human condition and narratives about the country’s economic progress, India boasts a bountiful supply of compelling stories.

Parimala Bhat wants to know about all of them. But the 52-year-old Mumbai resident is blind and for years she had to rely on TV news channels to satisfy her craving for news.

No more.

For the past several years, Bhat has subscribed to Sparshdnyan, a local newspaper that has carved itself an unusual niche in India’s surging media industry: the paper, whose name translates to “knowledge by touch” is written in Braille, making it one of the world’s few newspapers to cater to the visually impaired.

“You know how satisfying it is to sit and just read,” says Bhat, a healthcare worker with Air India. “It’s the same for the blind. The TV and radio are fine, but I love being able to save my paper for the night-time when I’m by myself and get involved in a story. It’s a different sense reading the paper instead of listening to news. It’s just incredibly satisfying.”

Published twice a month, Sparshdnyan is sent to about 400 subscribers in Maharashtra. While its circulation may be modest, readership is growing fast. Most issues are sent to institutes for the blind, where each copy is read by an estimated 60 people. The paper’s readership is estimated at about 24,000, says editor Swagat Thorat.

Four-year-old Sparshdnyan would seem to be a notable success story in India’s vibrant media sector. A team of local journalists volunteer their time to write for the paper, which averages about 48 pages per issue, and readers and government officials alike praise its coverage of local politics and social issues, Thorat says.

“We get about 600 to 700 letters to the editor every month,” says the 50-year-old. “We have readers from ten-years-old to 80 but I think more than half, probably 60%, are between 18 and 35.”

Thorat isn’t the first news editor who has recognised there’s a market for the visually impaired.

For Thorat, it all started in 1997 when he directed a play “Swatantryachi Yashogatha” (Glorious story of independence) which created a world record, with 88 blind artists from two blind schools in Pune, on the background of golden anniversary of Independence Day. This play was entered in ‘Guinness Book of World Records’ and ‘Limca Book of Records’.

Thorat reminisces, “While doing the show, I travelled with these kids and observed that their discussions revolved around things that they had read. Back in 1998, there were very few Braille books available. Now, the number has gone up. But I realized that these kids wanted to read more. There was a need…”

 Sparshdnyan’s news slant is eclectic. A recent issue featured the review of an autobiography by a local college professor who is blind, an editorial on corruption, an issue that has dominated headlines across newspapers this summer, and a feature story about doctors who overmedicate.

There was also a section giving advice about public speaking, a travel story on the Maharashtra district of Raigad, where tourists flock to hiking trails 1,000 metres above sea level, a recipe for keema pulao, and a general knowledge quiz. Sparshdnyan chooses to give a miss to a few key news areas that are an integral part of mainstream newspapers.

Why a unique newspaper ‘sparshdnyan’ isn’t covering the IPL !!!

Crime and cricket are left out! 

Thorats says:

“The paper we use is so expensive that I want to be judicious of what gets printed on it and quality has been our prime concern. Cricket is all over the broadcast media. As for crime stories, they affect even the sighted. So imagine the impact it will have on the blind, many of whom do battle depression,” .

“Sparshdnyan leaves no stone unturned in inspiring our readers to scale new heights. Most of the content in the paper revolves around social issues, international affairs, inspiring biographies and education and career options” . Our ideology is clear. We want to acquaint our readers to current issues around them. We don’t want to discuss or debate only issues that affect the visually handicapped. Sparshdnyan carries content that you and I like to read in our morning paper. We cover subjects such as health, politics, music, films, theatre, literature and food, including recipes, the 40-46 odd pages.”

For three years, the advertising company that has worked with Thorat has failed to sell a single ad in his paper. It begs the question, why hasn’t he sacked his partner and found someone else to broker deals with local advertisers.

“I still want a future with them and hope they can turn it around but I am starting to think about getting someone new,” says Thorat, who refuses to identify the company that’s said to be searching for ads for Sparshdnyan.

Sparshdnyan is distributed among 400 subscribers in India’s western Maharashtra state. Most of these issues are sent to institutes for the blind, where each copy is read by an estimated 60 people, putting the unofficial readership at around 24.000.

The project is costly and Thorat has little money to fund the endeavour. To raise support from his seeing peers, he develops documentary films about India’s wildlife.

“Our subscribers re-circulate the issues to others” mentions Swagat. “When people know you’re doing something good, they help, hence I approached all my acquaintances and well-wishers with a special scheme. He further adds “If they paid an annual fee of Rs 1200 (revised from Rs 960 due to increase in paper cost), a copy of the fortnightly magazine would be presented to a blind person.”

Thorat, who also produces documentary films about India’s wildlife, says he covers his Rs 30,000 administrative costs by selling wildlife photos and films. A group of supporters pay the monthly bill of Rs 30,000 for paper. Since the paper is written in Braille, postage is free.

“It’s important that this newspaper be published,” says Suchita Shaha, a Mumbai psychologist who has raised Rs 50,000 from friends and neighbours to help cover Thorat’s expenses. “It’s not like it is in the West. There are no facilities here in India for the blind, no seeing-eye dogs. We need to do more to help.”

Despite his difficulties attracting advertisers, Thorat says he believes that there’s a demand for more Braille newspaper coverage. An estimated 10 million Indians are visually impaired and within a year, Thorat plans to launch a daily title.

“It will require about Rs 400,000 and this time I’ll be running it as a proper business investment only,” he says.

One reason he’s optimistic about a daily is that government policy in Maharashtra prevents public-sector advertising in publications that don’t publish at least weekly. A daily Braille newspaper, Thorat says, would draw ads for various employment schemes and other government programs.

“I still think private companies will come around,” Thorat says. “Right now, the blind in India just aren’t being looked at as consumers. Companies don’t realise that they still buy hair oil and toothpaste and cellphones.”

Sitting next to a roadside tea stall where local men sipped on steaming masala tea, despite the oppressive Mumbai summer heat and humidity, Bhat, the Air India official, says she’s come to love her bi-weekly newspaper fix.

“It seems like I start saying ‘is it here yet’ on the first day of every month until it finally comes,” Bhat says with a gleeful laugh.

Thorat who is striving to make a difference feels that Government is not doing enough to cater to the needs of blind! “Social organizations are doing much more for the physically challenged than the government” says Thorat.

Sparshdnyan has come all this way without any grants from the government or donations. Swagat confides “I dream of a day when blind individuals will get their own daily. I hope some media house starts it, but if they don’t I will start the daily on my own in a few years”. He further adds “I am trying to get public libraries at the district level to start Braille sections”

“What typically happens is that due to lack of access to Braille books beyond their textbooks, blind students lose touch with reading once they graduate,” says Thorat. “True, they can have a few books read to them, but that’s not reading, it’s listening! Reading and listening are two different functions. When you read, it has a deeper impact on your personality. It enhances your language which listening can’t” specifies Thorat!

This is why till date there has been no alternative to Braille the world over!

For more donations and other details contact

Shilpa Redij : (Advertisement & Circulation Officer) Phone : 08097069805 / 022-24792287
Sparshdnyan, Yashogatha, Shop no. A – 11 & 25, Greenfields, Opp. Shahid Salaskar Garden,
Jogeshwari -Vikroli Link Road, Andheri (E), Mumbai – 400093. sparshdnyan@gmail.com