Out to empower

BY CHANDANA BANERJEE.| IN Media Practice | 09/03/2009
A Pune tabloid, shows how newspapers can empower citizens to address and resolve issues that concern them,
writes CHANDANA BANERJEE.

After Vinita Deshmukh resigned from her post as the editor of The Indian Express, she began a series of discussions with the late Prakash Kardale, the stalwart journalist , and Sanjay Pawar, the former general manager, both of The Indian Express, about starting a serious newspaper in Pune. After five months of brainstorming, they finally launched the first issue with the financial support of a construction group.

 

In April 2007, a new weekly tabloid – ¿Intelligent Pune¿ hit the stands in Pune.  Its very name underlines its focus – it was meant for the "intelligent and discerning Pune-ite", the  aim being to provide relevant, informative and essential content to empower the citizens of Pune.  From its conception, the newspaper set a benchmark for serious, pro-public journalism, together with strong  editorial content. Intensive investigation, forceful language and important issues that impact the life of the common citizen, are the hallmarks of this 32-page proactive tabloid.

 

¿IP got instant response – anyone who read it, took to it instantly since it  is one of the rare weekly tabloids that has moved away from the conventional chatpata masala image of a tabloid, and has earned a respectable reputation. It established itself as a brand within three months, and has created ripples across the city¿, says Vinita Deshmukh, the editor of IP.

 

The RTI (Right To Information Act) is the main weapon that the editor and journalists at IP use to research their stories, to dig through the dirt and bring out the truth to the public. Along with their hard-hitting exposures, they also feature a unique mix of thought-provoking and informative articles that cover social issues, problems of  citizens, travel, heritage, health and food. ¿The livewire menu of the newspaper comprises articles that give a sense of belonging to the readers, and spur them on to contribute to the society¿, quips the firebrand activist and editor. This unique paper, the only of its kind in the entire country, not only brings forth news that readers can use, but also takes up their cause with gusto. Problems that range from a tree- cutting drive in your colony, harassment by the traffic police, problems caused by the neglect of the Municipal Corporation, unsafe bridges, the putrid condition of the cremation ghats, an attempt to fill up Dhanori Lake by unscrupulous builders, IP has been in the fore-front, helping the citizens fight for their rights with its  far reaching area of focus.  ¿Dare drink this water¿. ¿Are you living on toxic air?¿, ¿Toll-tax illegal¿, ¿Accident victim¿s plight¿ and ¿Expressway and airport food stalls fleece you¿ are just some of the issues, that IP has exposed, and thereby made common citizens aware of their rights,  and the hazards they are exposed to.

 

Checkmating Dow

 

IP used Section 4 of the RTI Act and unearthed a scam wherein the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) gave permission to Dow Chemicals Pvt Ltd, to construct a plant just 1.2 km away from the tributary of Indrayani. While Dow tried to assuage the residents of Chakan that it was only going to be a R&D ( Research and Development) project, it was revealed that Dow would actually manufacture and use 20 hazardous chemicals. Besides, 14,800 trees were felled to facilitate construction,

 

On March 7, 2008, Intelligent Pune broke the story that created a stir in the country. These stories, as well as all the follow-up stories, provided essential ammunition to activists and villagers to launch a protest, and also led to a string of events that finally put Dow under the microscope.  The construction of the plant was stopped, and an inquiry committee has been set up to look into the matter.

 

¿This is a sterling example of how a newspaper brought out the truth to the people by using RTI Act, and empowered them to carry on their agitation based on black-and-white documents, which exposed the truth and nailed the lies of the MNC ( Multi-national Company)¿, states Ms. Deshmukh, adding that IP has filed 93 pages of objections, and published 83 pages and 33,000 words on the Dow issue till now.

(Dow is a subsidiary of the Union Carbide India, which was responsible for the world¿s worst industrial disaster - the Bhopal gas tragedy)

 

Public land for public use

 

 IP raised a public outcry when the Maharashtra state government, in a shocking turn of events, proposed outrageous changes in the Baner-Balewadi Development Plan, wherein land worth Rs 15,000 crores , which had been earmarked for public amenities and open spaces, were  now de-reserved for residential construction. Banding with an NGO, the Green Pune Movement, they flagged off a huge campaign, securing 70,000 objections which was then filed with the town-planning department. This massive citizen pressure has caused the government to back off, and IP celebrated with a congratulatory front-page headline:  "We, the people, win Baner-Balewadi Battle¿.

 

In the Empress Garden controversy too, land sharks had been eyeing the 40-acre Empress Garden. In January 2009, various government bodies arrived and inspected the area with a plan to allocate some portions of it for residential construction. The garden authorities appealed to the media to save this major green lung of Pune. The IP has plunged whole-heartedly into this battle, garnering citizen support, and are hopeful of a favourable outcome.

 

Ensuring citizens¿ both their essential, and heritage rights

 

At the time of the scandalous shortage of cooking gas cylinders, IP not only dug up the scam wherein the main culprits were commercial outfits which were using up these cylinders for domestic purposes, but ensured that citizens became aware that procuring of LPG falls under the Essential Commodities Act. This means that the consumer has the right to receive the cylinder at his/her doorstep within 24 hours of booking.

 

Acting on the same ambit of the right of citizens to the preservation of their heritage, IP has been responsible for highlighting the neglect of various heritage sites, effectively motivating the Archaeological Survey of India to sit up and take notice. It is due to its efforts that the Sinhagad Fort, one of the important forts captured by Shivaji Maharaj, is being renovated.

 

 ¿The paper has instilled confidence in people that here is a newspaper which takes up their cause in an in-depth and sustained manner, not like a flash in the pan. Also, they are sure of the credibility of IP,¿, says Vinita, the pride evident in her voice.

 

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