Stories about dam maintenance, mine winners in the Regional category

Some of the top nominations for the 2019 Ramnath Goenka Awards have come from regional media outlets that have focused on how official apathy has claimed human lives.

Aniket Vasant Sathe from Loksatta is the winner in the regional media (print) category while Sunil Baby from Media One TV is the winner in the regional media (broadcast) category.

In a series of stories, Sathe exposed the poor conditions of Maharashtra’s main dams and how their neglect was one of the reasons that led to the large-scale destruction of cities in the 2019 floods. Articles offered an in-depth look at the systemic neglect, legislative apathy, and administrative failure that impacted thousands of people living around dams.

Maharashtra has the largest number of dams in the country, and 296 of them were in urgent need of repair. A big challenge faced by Sathe was to gather information from various government agencies and to fully understand the technicality involved in dam engineering. “There are over 1,300 dams in Maharashtra that are over 10 meters high. I had to collect information on each of these dams and study the audit reports, which are published periodically, ”he said.

The government of Maharashtra eventually took note and approved 10 percent of the budget provision on water repairs for dam safety. After reviewing the necessary equipment, repair and replacement work began on a war footing.

Throughout its history, The Burning Mines, Baby, the winner in the Diffusion category, has explored the phenomenon of underground fires in Jharia, Jharkhand, which was first reported over a century ago. Over the years, the scale of the problem has grown, fueled by unscrupulous practices. Baby has been following the story of deaths caused by people falling into trenches that suddenly open in scorched earth, or by inhaling toxic emissions. Survivors live in fear of explosions as steam and smoke rise from the floors of their homes.

These mines are owned by Bharat Coking Coal Limited (BCCL) and Baby’s story revealed how the public sector company failed to ensure a safe environment for the people of Dhanbad.

“I had to stay three days in Jharia and do three stories. The place was hell on Earth; the earth and the air were both on fire, ”Baby said.

The journalist further described how the privatization of the mines had exacerbated the underground fire. The story stood out because it shed light on the plight of the poorest of the poor in a land rich in natural resources over which they had no rights.