Martyr in the cause of environment

BY nava t| IN Regional Media | 16/01/2006
His reports exposed the illegal activities of some forest officials who were hand-in-glove with the timber mafia.


Nava Thakuria


The New Year brought sad news for Assam scribes in the first week itself. One of their colleagues, a rural reporter attached to an Assamese daily was killed in a mysterious accident in upper Assam. Prahlad Goala, the Golaghat based correspondent of ‘Asomiya Khabar’, a Guwahati-based daily, met his end on the cold night of January 6.


The young reporter was knocked down by a car when  he was returning home riding on a two-wheeler. His body found at Thuramukh near Nambar reserve forest, around 300 km east of Guwahati showed many  wounds of stabs that grew suspicion over his death due  to the car accident. It is assumed the miscreants travelling in a vehicle  first hit the motorcycle and then repeatedly stabbed him to confirm the death. Prahlad succumbed to injuries on the spot before he was spotted by another on way local scribe. Prahlad, 33  left behind his wife and a 14-month-old girl in the family.


Prahlad took up his assignment as a rural reporter for the daily in August 2004, and made his  mark with some of his brave and brilliant reporting. His reports exposed the illegal activities of some forest officials who were hand-in-glove with the timber mafia. The dedicated reporter also tried to track   the actual progress of the rehabilitation process of the people affected by the man-elephant conflict in the locality. Prahlad wrote some convincing reports for his newspaper narrating the ongoing corruption of those forest officials who were bent upon making money out of the schemes meant for the benefit of poor villagers.


Meanwhile, the mysterious death of Prahlad created an unprecedented repercussion among the common people of the state as well as international media forum. At least three global media rights organisations had condemned the brutal murder of Prahlad. Expressing profound grief at the  first death of a journalist in 2006, International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) President Christopher Warren reveal claimed that Prahlad’s heinous murder "once more highlights the fact that investigative journalists doing their job are at grave risk from the forces they attempt to expose...This murder must be condemned in the strongest terms, and the guilty immediately brought to justice," he said. This federation represents over 500,000 journalists throughout the globe.


Similarly, a New York based media rights body, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ ) came forward to  ‘condemn the killing of our colleague Prahlad Goala’. "We call on the authorities in Assam to conduct a thorough investigation and bring those responsible to justice," said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. Earlier the Parish based Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontiers) condemned the incident in strong words. "The murder of this young Indian reporter is a tragic reminder that it is still dangerous to practice investigative journalist in some Indian states," stated RSF.


The police, following an FIR lodged by the widow of Prahlad, arrested a forest range officer named K. Zaman Jinnah. The forest officer of Nambar reserve is booked on suspicion of hiring professional killers to assassinate Prahlad. A case (No 14/06 IPC 302-109) is also registered and the police started investigations into the matter, informed Golaghat Superintendent of Police, Madan Chetia.


"The forest ranger (K. Zaman Jinnah ) used to threaten Prahlad  for the reporting those exposed the misuse of power by him. Not only Prahlad, Jinnah also threatened to kill Deven Gogoi, the secretary of Nambar Suraksha Samiti (an activist group raised for preservation of Nambar Reserve Forest)," says Rohit Gogoi, the general secretary of Golaghat District Journalists Association.


Expressing anger against the killing of a committed journalist who accepted the profession as a mission to save forests and wildlife, the Journalists Action Committee Assam, an umbrella organisation of journalists unions in the state,  organized a protest meeting at Guwahati Press Club on January 11. Several speakers in the protest meeting condemned the state forest department and the government for trying to safeguard the culprits involved in the murder of Prahlad. The meeting, while demanding a judicial probe into the incident, resolved to call a protest rally in front of the state Legislative Assembly during the next session.


Bhabesh Baruah, the president of All Assam Press Correspondent’s Union while speaking from the chair revealed that Assam lost 15 journalists since 1991 in various incidents.  Citing the example of Prahlad Goala, Mr Baruah observed that a journalist trying his best to increase public awareness about the forest issues fell prey to the goons hired by the forest officials themselves.. The committee had already sent separate memorandum to the Union Minister for Environment & Forests (Government of India) and the Press Council of India (PCI) demanding the arrest of all the culprits and exemplary punishment for them.


Earlier the Journalists Union of Assam and the Golaghat District Journalists Association had submitted a memorandum to Golaghat District Magistrate demanding a judicial enquiry to probe into the incident of the gruesome murder. The local people observed a dawn to dusk Golaghat district Bandh with spontaneous response from all sections in the society on January 8.


The conservation group Aaranyak, Nature’s Beckon and Tengani Sangram Samiti  also strongly condemned the incident and demanded a high-level probe into the  matter.  "I believe, it was not only for reporting about the ongoing illegal tree felling in Nambar Reserve, for which Prahlad was targeted. But Prahlad addressed much bigger issues through his series of news-reporting might be the unchecked corruption in utilization of fund granted for rehabilitation of victims under the man-elephant conflict project there," said

Soumyadeep Dutta, the director of Nature’s Beckon.


Rupam Baruah, a senior journalist of Assam argued that though Assam lost many brave sons daring to raise voice for the deprived and exploited section in the society during the last decade, Prahlad was the first journalist who was targeted for reporting environmental issues. "Hence he (Prahlad) should be declared as the first martyr journalist for the cause of environment of the region," wrapped up Baruah at the protest meeting.


Nava Thakuria is a freelance journalist based in Guwahati and presently the Secretary of Guwahati Press Club. He may contacted at


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