7th January 2007
FRONTLINE Dear Editor, As a long-time reader of Frontline, I’m well aware of your political leanings. Yet I have not normally seen these interfere with your high journalistic standards and in-depth investigative reporting. Therefore, I was outraged by your recent coverage of the struggle in Singur(Frontline Volume 23:25, Dec 16-29 2006).
You misrepresent the 18 month long people’s struggle to protect their lands and livelihoods as simply a contrary move by “a motley group of notable personalities.”
Moreover, you throw in free advertising for the corporation, gratuitously lauding their product as “the cheapest and most fuel-efficient car.” How do we know if it is really the most fuel-efficient? And would this car really be cheap if the corporation was forced to pay the full costs of all the resources it requires without the helping hand of the government?
Not to mention the helping hand of what has unfortunately become this government’s propaganda outlet. Relying on official records, Frontline actually goes so far as to repeat the government-speak that of the 997 acres acquired for the car factory, 910 acres are mono cropped as per “original Record.” When was that original Record recorded? The farmers know and anyone who has visited Singur knows that these lands are now yielding at least two, mostly three, and even four crops per year. Giving up this agricultural land, and the well developed irrigation system of canals and tube wells from Damodar and Hooghly rivers will jeapordize not only the livelihoods of the present generation but also food security for the generations to come. What price can we put on that?
Even if the factory is deemed to be in the public interest, why 997 acres? Compared to European car factories, this is hugely inefficient. Surely handing over additional prime real estate to the Tatas is not in the public interest. What about the cost of proper disposal of the waste generated and effective measures to handle the additional pollution emitted by an influx of cheap cars? Will the Tatas be paying for all of these? Or will the public, particularly the poor be subsidizing this too, even at the cost of their own lives?
We expect a free press to be raising these questions. Instead Frontline simply sings verse after verse the praises of the government’s as well as of Tata Motors’ plans in this project. Especially, the bit about retraining oustees in tailoring and catering (for women) and electrical and auto repair reads more like a government/corporate press release. Why not offer these training classes before taking away people’s land and see how many people opt for them?
This kind of irresponsible journalism has very serious implications for our country. When Frontline takes the party line, it loses credibility, and with that shirks its responsibility towards the vast majority of struggling people, who have no friends in high places, but depend on their labor, their natural resources, and the truth for survival.