Seventh CSE Media Fellowship: Rivers: Used And Abused

October – November 2007

India has 12 major river basins that account for 85 per cent of its river waters. Entire civilisations have grown and thrived in these basins. About 932 million people or 80 per cent of the population depends on these rivers for drinking water, agriculture, fisheries and livelihood. At the same time, more than 29,000 million litres per day (mld) of domestic wastewater and 15,000 mld of industrial waste is discharged into these very lifelines.

In 1985, the government started the Ganga Action Plan to clean up the Ganga; later, various plans for other rivers came into being. The result – after spending more than Rs 2,000 crore on cleaning our rivers, they run dirtier than ever.

What is the reason behind this monumental failure? How unclean, really, are our rivers, and what is their present state doing to us? What are the alternatives and options for cleaning them?

To address these and many other issues revolving around rivers in India, Centre for Science and Environment announced the Seventh CSE Media Fellowship on ‘Rivers: Used and Abused’. Scheduled over October-November 2007, it offered print and audio-visual journalists an opportunity to travel, research and report on the state of our rivers, the reasons behind their conditions, the steps taken and their effectiveness and the impacts on the people and environment.

Applications, accompanied by resume of the applicant, a proposal on what the applicant would like to study under the fellowship and a letter of support from the editor, were accepted till September 20, 2007. Seventy-eight complete applications – and numerous incomplete ones – were received from all over India for this programme. The MRC and an internal advisory committee shortlisted 30 names on the basis of the soundness of experience, credentials, writing quality and proposals for consideration by an external Jury.

The selection of the finalists was done at an external jury of eminent experts in the field of journalism. It included

  • Arti Jeyrath, Bureau Chief, DNA
  • Om Thanvi, Executive Editor, Jansatta
  • Qamar W Naqvi, News Director, Aaj Tak
  • Sunil Jain, Associate Editor, Business Standard.

To reach at an informed judgment, MRC had given each Jury member a comprehensive Jury Dossier which contained all the information on the current fellowship and its shortlisted candidates.

The Jury selected 11 Fellows on the basis of originality of ideas, grasp of the issues covered, relevance and range of issues covered, analytical skills, and initiative. The Jury also gave, wherever needed, clear directions that a particular work plan/research could take.

The fellowship programme generated an extensive amount of reportage and base studies on all the subject areas. Here are the 11 fellows and the work they have done.

The Fellows

Alok Prakash Putul
Freelancer, Daily Chhattisgarh
Raipur, Chhattisgarh

Alok Prakash Putul is a senior journalist based in Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh. He was formerly the editor of the Bilaspur edition of the Hindi language daily Deshbandhu. Besides that he has been contributing to numerous national, regional and international publications and news channels. He is a regular contributor to BBC, All India Radio and Down to Earth magazine. He is also a documentary film maker and script writer.  
Alok started his career in journalism in late 1980s and has been working consistently on stories of environment, pollution, development, and tribal issues from Chhattisgarh. His stories on child soldiers in Maoist movements influenced Maoist organisation Revolutionary International Movement to ban children as soldiers in their movement.  

For the fellowship, Alok proposed to study privatisation of rivers in Chhattisgarh. He proposed to study the case of Sheonath river the rights for which were sold by the state government to a private company. Kelo river in Raigarh is now controlled by the Jindals for industrial use leading to water shortages in the city and nearby villages. He also wanted to study Chhattisgarh’s Shankhini and Dankhini rivers, which have been completely destroyed due to iron ore washing done by the National Mineral Development Corporation in Bastar. Lastly he wanted to look at the drying up of Indravati river and about 4000 tanks in the district of Bastar in Chhattisgarh. The river depends on Orissa for water. Essar’s plan to build a pipeline from Bailadila to Vishakhapatnam to convey iron ore has threatened whatever remains of the river.

The jury approved Alok’s proposal but suggested that he should focus only on three rivers mainly Sheonath, Kelo and Indravati. The privatisation of rivers Kelo and Sheonath and the threat to the already dry Indravati from the Essar’s planned pipeline. The jury suggested that the process of privatisation and its impact on the communities should also be documented. They also wanted him to look at the economics of privatisation of water and access to water.

Alok published one story in three parts in one of the leading Hindi dailies of the state Daily Chhattisgarh. The story was published on the front page of the paper. The same story was also published by a local eveninger, Evening Times, as a full page story.

After the story local news channels picked up the lead and did stories on the privatisation of the rivers. NDTV did a special programme on rivers and included inputs and bytes from Alok. His stories and parts of it were also used by other newspapers like Jharkhand based Prabhat Khabar and Assam based Purvanchal Prahari.

Published stories


Anupama Kumari
Freelancer, 7 Days
Ranchi, Jharkhand

Anupama is a well known environment and development journalist from Jharkhand. She was for a long time with the leading Hindi language paper of the state, Prabhat Khabar. She is currently freelancing for Prabhat Khabar, 7 Days, News Line and magazines like Senior India and Janmadhyamam.

Anupama has also been awarded the mining fellowship by CSE under which she published some very investigative and detailed stories on the impact of mining on women. She has also got fellowships from National Foundation of India and Panos. She is also associated with many social organizations in the region.

For the river fellowship, Anupama proposed to study the Damodar river – the pollution, its causes, its environmental and socio-economic impact. Other pertinent questions she wanted to raise were why Damodar was still polluted, the Damodar action plan, money spent on it, communities’ efforts and how it was to be cleaned now. She also proposed to look at the Damodar Valley Corporation project, its advantages, disadvantages, and failures.

The jury approved her proposal as it is. But it also suggested Anupama to look at Subarnarekha river as well, particularly the performance of the river cleaning programme. Anupama published three stories on Damodar and one on Subarnarekha river in a Ranchi based Hindi paper, Seven Days.

Published stories


Athar Parvaiz
Senior Correspondent, The Kashmir Times
Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir

Athar Parvaiz is a senior correspondent with The Kashmir Times. He has about seven years experience in the field of journalism with two years of reporting for Radio Kashmir. He has also done a research project for the French magazine Le Point on political scenario in Jammu and Kashmir.

Parvaiz submitted a proposal on the pollution in Jhelum river. Garbage and sewage dumping has increased the pollution levels. Deforestation is causing a heavy silt load in the river, reducing its depth. This has in turn resulted in depletion of fishes. He also proposed to study the impact of Qazigund-Baramullah railway project on the river. The jury approved the Parvaiz’s proposal.

He published five pieces on the op-ed pages of The Kashmir Times. The stories generated debate and discussion among environmentalists in Kashmir. According to Parvaiz, there was an interest in environmental groups to work with CSE on the issue. The Kashmir University Research Scholars Association decided to raise the issue with the government. Parvaiz reported that the stories were also appreciated by government officials. The stories also revealed how unequipped and untrained the pollution control board officials were to measure basic pollution parameters.

Published stories


Dolonchapa Bhattacharya
Senior Reporter, India Today Bangla
Kolkata, West Bengal

Dolonchapa is a senior reporter with India Today Bangla and is based in Kolkata, West Bengal. She has previously worked with Chaubees Ghanta, a 24 hour news channel and Eenadu TV at Hyderabad.  

For the river fellowship, Dolonchapa proposed to look at Padma and Bhagirathi rivers, the two channels of Ganga which are constantly changing course. Due to the construction of Farakka Barrage there is a real threat of the two channels merging. She proposed to study the environmental damage caused by the impending merger of the channels, land erosion, loss of agricultural land and the displacement caused by all this.

The jury passed her proposal and suggested her to get in touch with experts like Prof Jayanta Bandopadhyaya of Indian Institute of Management, Kolkata for help in research.  

Dolonchapa published a five-page story in India Today Bangla. The story revealed the impact of the mid channel, which is changing the course of Ganga. The story got good responses from experts, readers as well as editors and senior journalists in the state.

Published stories


Kanchan Vasdev
Senior Staff Correspondent, The Tribune
Ludhiana, Punjab

Kanchan is a senior staff correspondent with The Tribune in its Ludhiana bureau. A post graduate in mass communication from Kurukshetra University, she has about nine years of experience in reporting. She has worked with the Indian Express and The Homepages previously. Kanchan has been regularly writing about pollution and water issues, especially pollution in river Sutlej.

Kanchan proposed to do stories on pollution in Sutlej – sewage as well as industrial – that is impacting agriculture and fishing. She also proposed to study the Sutlej Action Plan, under which only one sewage treatment plant has been constructed. She also planned to collect samples from the river to test them.

The jury suggested that Kanchan should focus on the journey of the river and report on its state and on related issues as it goes along the course. The jury suggested it be written as a travelogue.

Kanchan published two stories. First story was on the sewage treatment plant and its inability to treat industrial effluents, which lead to high levels of heavy metals in the treated water. This was also threatening the water supply to the towns of Bhatinda and Mansa. The industrial effluents were being dumped in the Buddha Nala which drained into the Sutlej. The other story was animal remains and waste being dumped in the river by the slaughter houses and its impact on the quality of water and health.

Published stories


K Rajendran
Senior Correspondent, Kairali TV
New Delhi

Rajendran is a senior correspondent with the Kairali TV in New Delhi. With seven years experience in the field of journalism, Rajendran has done extensive reporting on issues of environment and health. He received the K L Chopra award for excellence in health reporting. He has also got the Sayeena Hussain Indo-Pak Media Fellowship and the UNDP Human Development Fellowship. Author of a few books, he has also made documentary films on Khammam land struggle and trade in children.

Rajendran proposed to make a 30-minute documentary on large scale sand mining in Bharathapuzha river in Kerala. Environmental consequences, scarcity of water due to the drying up of the river and the role of the three tier panchayat system to protect the river.

The jury consented on Rajendran’s proposal, but suggested that an expose of sand mafia, role of panchayats, pollution of Bharathapuzha and rehabilitation of workers involved in sand mining should be stressed on.

Rajendran produced a 30 minute documentary titled ‘Nila’ that was telecast twice on Kairali TV and also on People TV. As a result of this film, the Kerala Water Resources Minister ordered an in-depth study on the protection of the Bharathapuzha. The film has also been selected for the Mancheri Video Film Festival.

Television programme

  • Nila


K Sajeevan
Sub Editor, Mathrubhumi
Kannur, Kerala

Sajeevan is a senior sub editor with the leading Malayalam language paper Mathrubhumi. Sajeevan has done a fair amount of health reporting with stories on cancer among the elderly in Kannur, high incidence of HIV in housewives in Kasargod, and Alzheimer’s patients and their sufferings. He was awarded the IMA state award in 1995 for a report on the struggle of women against illegal liquor mafia. He also got an IMA award for a report on mentally challenged children in Eloor region of Kochi due to water pollution. He has also written on deforestation in Kannur region.

Sajeevan proposed to study the ecological as well as socio-economic issues related to pollution in Valapattanam river in Kannur district of Kerala. Ecological issues included sand mining, fishing by explosives causing depletion of fish and other organisms, threat from timber business, reclamation of marshes and other encroachments, depletion of groundwater, dumping of domestic and industrial waste in the river, and violation of coastal regulations. Socio-economic issues included impact on livelihoods, religious events and festivals. The jury approved the proposal as it is with no suggestions.

Sajeevan published seven stories in Mathrubhumi, besides which 10 other stories were lined up for publication.

Published stories


Manipadma Jena
Freelancer, Economic and Political Weekly
Bhubaneshwar, Orissa

Manipadma is a senior journalist based in Bhubaneshwar, Orissa. She has written extensively on issues of environment and development, livelihoods and gender. She is also a communication consultant with various NGOs and UN organizations and an independent researcher. She has nineteen years of experience as a journalist and has written in most leading newspapers and magazines. She is also a columnist for many of these.

Manipadma’s focus of study for the fellowship was urban domestic pollution and industrial pollution in Mahanadi river. The stories were meant to look at the levels of industrial pollution, its repercussions on people, animals and environment, the existing pollution control regulations and policies and their implementation, community based initiatives and impact of POSCO SEZ on the river. The jury approved the proposal but suggested to also examine Cuttack’s water and sewage management scenario and plans under the JNNURM and analyse the performance of the national river cleaning programme.

Manipadma published a six page story on the discharge of municipal sewage, industrial effluents and biomedical waste in the Mahanadi river.

Published stories


Rajesh Kumar Singh
Principal Correspondent, The Hindustan Times
Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh

Rajesh is a principal correspondent with The Hindustan Times at Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. He has been in the field for the last 16 years. He started with the Patna edition of Hindustan Times and was posted to the Lucknow edition in 1997. His reportage has varied from floods in Gorakhpur, to mafias and criminals influence on elections, to corruption in the distribution of nutrition among children and women living below poverty line in Uttar Pradesh.

For the fellowship, Rajesh proposed to study the Gomti river, a tributary of Ganga. His focus was the reason of pollution and the failure of waste management and river cleaning programmes, change in programmes due to changes in government, the role of communities living near river basins and the failure of the administration in checking the pollution of the river. The Jury suggested him to also look into Lucknow’s water and sewage management scenario as well as plans under JNNURM and at the performance of the Gomti Action Plan.

Rajesh covered the issues extensively and did ten stories. In his stories he covered the untreated waste entering the river, the pollution of the river from its very source at Fulhar Lake, the pollution of the river at Jaunpur, construction that has affected the flow of the river, fight amongst the state government departments for the use of funds under JNNURM in Lucknow, pollution at Shahjahanpur, a review of the Gomti Action Plan and lastly the non inclusion of local communities in the clean up by the government.

Published stories


Rajshekhar Pant
Freelancer, The Hindustan Times, Sahara Times
Bhimtal, Uttarakhand

Rajshekhar Pant is a senior journalist from Uttarakhand. He has done extensive reporting on issues regarding the hill state and its ecology. He has been associated with leading papers and magazines like India Today, Hindustan Times, Sahara Times, and Down To Earth. He has also contributed to the UK based magazine Landscape History. Besides he has also been involved in research and script writing for numerous documentaries for the state tourism ministry, ministry of tribal affairs, NHPC and Doordarshan. Besides that he has had widespread experience in teaching in schools and institutes and other administrative jobs.

Rajshekhar proposed to study the Nandhaur river valley near Haldwani in Uttarakhand. His focus was growing urbanization and deforestation in the once virgin forests affecting the Nandhaur river valley. He wanted to report on the 2000 acres of forest given away by the State Industrial Development Corporation of Uttarakhand to contractors to supposedly save downstream villages from floods. The inadequate flood prevention, in terms of bunds and boulder-spurs, has further damaged the river banks and exposed it to further exploitation by contractors. The jury, though ok with Rajshekhar’s proposal, also felt that he should examine and report on sewage management issues related to the Nandhaur river.

Rajshekhar did six stories. The stories covered issues of government giving land next to the river belonging to an open jail to industries, the setting up of stone crushers in the valley in Chorgalia region, and the dying of acacia catechu trees in the valley.

Rajshekhar’s stories, according to him, have been instrumental in strengthening the cause of the activists to a considerable extent. He says that after the publication of the story on stone crusher close to the Nandhaur river, the chief minister of Uttarakhand revised the norms for setting-up stone crushers and asked for their strict implementation. Activists were able to put their points in a more emphatic manner before the ministry and the officials. His stories on devastation of Chorgalia region and dying of acacia trees have been noted by the government.

Published stories


Sobhapati Samom

Freelancer, The Assam Tribune, Eastern Mirror
Imphal, Manipur

Sobhapati Samom is a correspondent of The Assam Tribune in Imphal, Manipur since 1998. He has also been reporting for Hindustan Times. Prior to this he has also worked for Asia News International, Eenadu TV, The North East Sun, The Eastern Herald Tribune and numerous regional dailies. He has also assisted in a documentary for University Grants Commission on theatre of Manipur and a research project by the Centre for North East Studies on the Indo-Myanmar border trade.

Sobhapati submitted a proposal on the Nambul river in Manipur. His proposal focused on the pollution in the river due to dumping of market and household waste, due to which the fish population has nearly finished. The river also feeds the Loktak lake, which in turn is getting polluted by municipal waste and sewage brought by the river. He also wanted to study the threats to the river, the role of the city and the impact of the pollution on the environment and people associated with the river. The jury approved the proposal without any suggestions.

Sobhapati did eight stories featuring issues of pollution of the river and the role of urbanisation in it. The other stories included one on the importance of the river for Imphal and its dependence on the river. Sobhapati’s stories got a good response from readers and the older generation recalled the role of the river in their lives. Some of his stories were published on the editorial pages of the newspapers.

Published stories