Any gritty piece of reporting that sets out to uncover the truth calls for extensive groundwork and deep understanding. It’s this determination that binds the winners of the Ramnath Goenka Awards, 2019.
Anand Choudhary of Dainik Bhaskar is the winner in the Hindi (Print ) category and Sushil Kumar Mohapatra of NDTV India the winner in the Hindi (Broadcast) category for their stories that dictated policy change, prompted action and changed lives.
Choudhary’s news reports, a labour of two years, exposed a human-trafficking network that thrived across 105 villages of three tribal districts of Rajasthan — Udaipur, Banswara and Dungarpur — adjacent to the Gujarat border.
The reports revealed that children between 8 and 15 years were sold to brokers who bid for them. The story resulted in a special cell being created for the first time in Kotra block of Udaipur district, where this racket flourished. Besides, a Special Investigation Unit for Child and Women Crime was established at every police district in the state. Following the expose, the Rajasthan Police started a special drive on January 1, 2020 and has rescued more than 1,000 children so far.
“I faced several challenges while pursuing this story. We had to pretend to be customers to gain the confidence of the human traffickers. We tried to get in touch with the parents of children who had either died or faced physical harm,” said Choudhary.
In a series of four stories, pursued over 10 months, Mohapatra focused on how a 90-km-long canal, which flowed between Okhla and Agra, and carried industrial waste, was the cause ofamong people in the Dhatir area of Palwal, Haryana.
Through the series, Mohapatra exposed the State Government’s negligence in cleaning this canal, whose toxic water was used by farmers for irrigating lakhs of hectares.
Even the wheat grown by the farmers had turned black. His stories revealed that more than 200 villages had been affected by the polluted waters of this canal.
“I had to do several stories to establish the magnitude of the problem. For this, I traveled to several villages in Haryana. It was a challenge to talk to cancer patients who were reluctant to talk on camera. We had to tell them that if they didn’t raise their voice, the problem would not be solved,” said Mohapatra.
After the first story, the National Green Tribunal shut down several erring industries. Some factories were also forced to install filters. Though the Haryana government has been spending lakhs of rupees on the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Mohapatra’s reportage revealed that very little had changed on the ground.