An open letter to Tarun Tejpal: Hartman de Souza
On 27 October the Hindustan Times published an article by Hartman de Souza and on 30 October a response to it by Tarun Tejpal, editor of Tehelka newsmagazine. This guest post by HARTMAN DE SOUZA is his rejoinder
There are some of us in Goa who will know in about 20 days or so, thanks to two RTIs filed, whether Tarun Tejpal did in fact get all the necessary permissions and clearances needed to add to the lovely property he now owns in the village of Moira… or, as he more pointedly said of the village when he called me up in the Pune, “I mean, look at Moira man, it’s a dying Goan village” …emphasis on ‘dying’, and the implication being one suspects, that the Tejpals of the world can and will breathe life into it. I wonder if he remembers and can parse what I said to him in reply.
I mean what do you say to an urbane man of the world who tells you the launch of his book held at the Sunaparanta Centre of Arts and Culture, Panjim, owned and managed by a mining company desperately in need of reinventing itself in good light, was arranged by his publisher… and actually telling me he didn’t know there was a mining connection there.
This is perhaps the only time in my life that I wished I had a sexier phone so I could have recorded the damn conversation. I believe he may have told me that there are so many issues he has to follow he was not expected to know the ground realities of Goa. Of course I was angry. I told him there were artists with integrity in Goa who wouldn’t even shit in that aforementioned arts centre.
I am proud of having a hide thick enough to take on the Tejpals of this country, and that’s a tribe regrettably, that’s on the increase, cut-rate pomo intellectuals turned entrepreneurs. He’ll understand the context of this because he gave me the usual drivel of different perspectives and how one needs to resolve differences and ‘negotiate’ the terrain or some such blah, at which, in my politest tone, I merely said “I’ve heard this pomo shit before”.
I liked Tehelka from the time an old friend joined it as a start-up, my logic being impeccably simple: any magazine crazy enough to hire him would be one hell of a magazine. I will continue to read it, and will, as always, admire and be inspired by many of the younger writers they feature. But the same friend is deeply bitter about his earlier commitment to Tehelka and I often wonder why. Now maybe I’m beginning to realize why.
But now, just for the record, I am not angry with Tejpal, just incredibly sad about his comments on another reporter against whom he has cast some pretty horrible aspersions. Tejpal needs to know for the record that when he knocked this reporter down on the phone, there was no vegetarian Albert Pinto on the other side. Had he said this to me in person, I would have grabbed him by his shirt and pinned him against the wall. That anger he didn’t, unfortunately, see.
As a lowly features editor many moons ago, I gave this reporter his first assignment and later his first job. Tejpal should also know that all pro-environmentalists in Goa were over the top when they knew that Tehelka was sending someone down to Goa to do a story on illegal mining. I, of course, was much more forthright. I was convinced Tehelka would screw the swine. When the reporter got in touch with me, I linked him with others in this pro-environment movement building up in Goa, so should Tejpal like, I’d be happy to publish the reporter’s painstaking mails to us, seeking further information, asking for clarifications, and building the base of his contacts. I hope it doesn’t come to this, but should Tejpal also want, I’d be happy to draft a letter of protest to him and get it signed by all those pro-environmentalists who interacted with the reporter.
But Tejpal wants facts, so let’s give him facts:
The report that didn’t appear in Tehelka was probably the first in-depth, comprehensive and damning indictment of how Goa was being looted, and who the looters were. The said reporter visited between March 1 and 12 finding out, among other things that Goa’s chief minister, Digambar aka Digunder Kamat, the Mines minister under two different parties for the last 12 years, was allowing the large scale plunder of Goa’s iron ore.
He dug out details of how mining corporates were extracting ore several times what they had environmental clearances for with the CM’s collusion. He nailed details for 48 mines, more than half of the state’s 90 active mines. There were the better known villains like Vedanta, the smaller ones such as Salgaokar and Chowgule, colluding to push villagers off their land with threats and intimidation, extracting ore twice and even four times over what they had permits for. He brought to light in the report that 95 lakh tonnes of iron ore had been illegally mined during the last four years itself – a theft of nearly Rs 800 crore. The reporter also meticulously studied Karnataka Lok Ayukta Santosh Hegde’s report noting that iron ore stolen from Bellary was being shipped to Goa to blend with the local ore. It was he who found the missing links in this great mine robbery!
Now things read like the films Tejpal seems fixated on. When the reporter went to Digunder Kamat on March 11 to interview him for his response to these findings, at the end of the interview Kamat asked him on which date Tarun Tejpal was visiting Goa, because he had sent word through a powerful Delhi politician that he planned a visit.
When the reporter got back to Delhi, he was told by his editors that something was missing in his story and why didn’t he get more details. He got back to some of us, worked a few more days and re-wrote the story including the evidence he felt his editors wanted. That was late March and early April – the same week that we in Goa know that either Tejpal or his emissary were flying to Goa to meet the chief minister. One editor at the magazine promised that the story would be carried in two weeks’ time, and that they were waiting for a few permits that Tehelka’s marketing team had gone to get from CM Kamat for a forthcoming Tehelka event. Till date, of course, no story on Goa’s illegal mining ever appeared in Tejpal’s ‘independent news magazine’.
The reporter whom Tejpal now derides accepted a job offer from Firstpost.com on May 18. He left Tehelka in June after co-authoring this cover story on Dayanidhi Maran
He made one more exhaustive trip to Goa and published his report of public resources being stolen, on Firstpost.com. The same month, Tehelka began carrying advertisements for its ideas jamboree scheduled in Goa from November 4th to 6th. Go see the Thinkfest ads where Tehelka tom-toms its patrons in its September and October issues Volume 8, Issues 39, 40, 41 and 42.
While the mining story on Goa did not conform to Tejpal’s notion of ‘public interest’, it burnt a lot of fingers. This was the report of September 22 that appeared in Firstpost: Yeddy, Reddy, Kamat? Goa’s Rs 800 cr mining scam is next.
The same week, two reporters from the Hindustan Times began a series of several detailed reports following up on the scale of ore theft.
The sad story of Goa’s forests and water had finally become public!
The state-legislature appointed Public Accounts Committee (PAC) led by Manohar Parrikar that was stopped from making its report on illegal mining public on October 5, said that in the last five years alone, iron ore worth about Rs. 3,500 crore has been exported without paying any royalty! More than four times what the Tehelka/Firstpost reporter had estimated in his investigations. Mines over 60 feet deep were drying up Goa’s groundwater. Its life-giving streams were dying. PAC said it was not just chief minister Digunder Kamat involved, but also his health minister Vishwajit Rane, his urban development minister Joaquim Alemao, his home minister Ravi Naik’s son Roy Naik and Goa Congress president Subhash Shirodkar – all were hands in glove!
Meanwhile, after the last few days’ spokes in their wheels, the link announcing the names of their Goa Thinkfest patrons no longer pops-up when you open the Tehelka website. Though it is possible to see the list of patrons in these logos displayed at the top of the Thinkfest website.
Match the logo that cheerfully announces ‘Go Goa- A Perfect Holiday Destination’ if you will (just below Tata Steel), from what Goa government displays on its tourism website. In other words, the Goa government is one of the sponsors.
And if more proof of the collusion of the powers-that-be was needed, a quick local phone call to the Goa’s Department of Tourism office (0832-243875051) and Rajesh Kale, Assistant Director Department of Tourism in CM’s Kamat government confirms that his office is “looking after Tehelka Thinkfest”, that on this warm Tuesday afternoon on November 1, three days before Tehelka ThinkFest is scheduled to start in Goa, he is “waiting for the program plan from Tehelka”!
The real estate lobby in Goa has got dangerously powerful, and like mining, intent on changing the face of Goa in the name of development for a few. Bear in mind that one of the firms sponsoring the Tehelka jamboree has had its project in Goa halted by court orders. I wonder what’s their interest in Goa apart from allowing the free flow of intellectual discourse via Tehelka’s software.
So here we have Tejpal running an “iconic weekly newsmagazine”, respected for its “hard investigative and public interest journalism; its literary refinements; and its in-depth analyses”, that boasts of its “unique voice …associated with fearlessness, integrity and truth”, who killed – I repeat, killed a crucial story of how Goa was being looted and then set about organising a self-aggrandising jamboree with money and official support from the same corrupt Digunder Kamat government in Goa.
I think Tejpal got the plot a bit wrong. He spent too much time focussing on my anger and too little to stop himself mouthing platitudes about his “good fight” for the “just and right”. He was so engrossed in his insipid defence of his own ‘heroism’ that he missed one important little fact – that the Tehelka ThinkFest website displays three Tehelka covers to showcase the magazine’s “iconoclasm”; the first of these three, is by the same ‘poorly-performing’, incompetent reporter, (reference a story on Suresh Kalmadi):
This could, of course, be stupidity, but I suspect its more shamelessness.
Bunty, you did say before we signed off that you had my number and would call me and we could grab a cup of coffee together, and I graciously agreed. That stands cancelled man!
(Hartman de Souza is an environmentalist and theatre veteran based in Pune.)
Previously by Hartman de Souza in Kafila:
- November 2009: The curse of Paikdev. A lament for water
- August 2008: On mining in Goa: Quepem by the kilo
- Bobby Kunhu on 12 October 2011: Everybody Loves a Good War – Tehelka and Essar