Media and Environment in Uttaranchal

IN Regional Media | 09/08/2002
Media and Environment in Uttaranchal

Media and Environment in Uttaranchal 

Even as media proliferates in the wake of statehood for the Uttarakhand region, its primary challenge is to engage meaningfully with issues that are related to the environment



Manjula Lal and Sevanti Ninan


In a broad sense environment is the central issue in the newly formed hill state of Uttaranchal. It always was, for this region located in the foothills of the Himalayas. Development is governed by the fact that there are constraints that the economy of a hill region has, regardless of whether or not an independent state has been constituted. Industrialisation is not environmentally sustainable, employment has to be created without damaging a fragile ecosystem. Development means meeting the needs of the population, of which the foremost are livelihood and water. Both have clear environmental implications.


So even as media proliferates in the wake of statehood for the Uttarkhand region, its primary challenge is to engage meaningfully with issues that are related to the environment. Both in a broad and narrow sense. How newspapers and television cover these, is an index of how much service they do to the state. Given the journalistic priorities that the plains-based proprietors of the most widely circulated newspapers have, this is a tall order. Both by temperament and training the average reporter in the field is ill equipped to provide sustained, contextual reporting on the larger issues. Add to these the constraints of time and resources, and reporting on the issues most relevant to this state becomes highly inadequate as well as unsatisfactory.



However the Uttarakhand region also has a large number of non governmental organisations, implementing a variety of initiatives on the ground. They have the perspective and understanding that journalists cannot acquire in the short term. Were the media and NGOs to engage satisfactorily with each other, between them they could keep the new government on its toes, as well as spread ripples of information on innovative solutions to the region¿s problems. Since this is not happening, this article will attempt to spell out why. "Regional papers are like NGOs: they can do a lot of sensitization and capacity-building," says Prof Ajay S Rawat, who teaches History at Kumaon University. He was the initiator of the Nainital Bachao (Save Naintal) movement in 1988. His public interest litigation against builders brought a stay on construction from the Supreme Court.



Rawat does his own investigations of organized crime like felling of trees and illegal mining, he also takes sneak pictures to document these. As chairman of the International Union of Forestry Research Organisations, Vienna, he naturally thinks that the press should focus on environment. "The national press should have played the role of a watchdog", he says. He says regional papers give a lot of news, but there is no follow-up. When 2,000 trees were destroyed at the Maharishi farm, Amar Ujala did highlight it, he says, but the paper has never written about how the Forest Department¿s inquiry has been dragging on for two years.


He points out that the press could play a role like that played effectively by the Dehradun-based HARC (Himalayan Action Research Committee) which has set up contact centres in the Upper Yamuna Valley region. These disseminate information about government projects, protecting villagers from being fooled by Block Development Officers. Then the way the NGO Chirag went in for ¿social fencing¿ in Thanliya Mehra Gaon could have been highlighted by the press to set an example for others.


Prof Shekhar Pathak, also of Kumaon University, says that the press could play an important role - even more than academicians and NGO activists, to both of which categories he belongs. "In a democracy, with all its internal contradictions, only the media can have a major impact," he says.

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