Sunday, December 4, 2022

Investigative journalism is vanishing: CJI Ramana

Full text of the speech delivered by Hon’ble  Chief Justice of India Justice N V Ramana at the launch of book “Blood Sanders : The Great Forest Heist” authored by Shri Sudhakar Reddy Udumula, Senior Journalist on 15 December, 2021:

New Delhi: The book ‘Blood Sanders’ that we are holding in our hands today is the result of diligent research and a great amount of hard work put in by Sri Udumula Sudhakar Reddy. He has been tracking this subject as a professional news reporter for nearly two decades. He travelled extensively in the habitat of red sanders which is a difficult terrain to walk through. He had first-hand interaction with the key players of the smuggling racket and also those who struggled to enforce the law. I think he is the most qualified person to deal with this subject. When he first approached me for this event, I had no choice but to say yes for more than one reason. Firstly, I knew him as a journalist from his formative days as a crime reporter. I am happy to note that he rose to the rank of Editor in a leading English daily. Secondly, I and his uncle Udumula Joji Reddy were together as students in S V V N Degree College, Amaravathi. His father, Sri Udumula Rayapa Reddy garu, a few years senior to me, is an agriculturist who hailed from Jagannadhapuram village which is adjacent to my native village Ponnavaram. మా ఊరూ వాడా గుర్తొస్తొన్నాయి. ఆ మంచి రోజులూ, ఆనాటి మిత్రులు గుర్తొకొస్తొన్నారు. ఊరికి వెళ్లాలని ఎప్పటి నుండో అనుకుంటున్నాను. త్వరలో వీలు చేసుకోవటానికి ప్రయత్నిస్తాను. (I am reminded of my village, good old days and great friends. I have been longing to visit my village. Hope to do so very soon). As described by Sudhakar, his father Rayapa Reddy garu is well known in our area for his integrity and resilience.

Sudhakar Reddy, Prof. Sridharacharyulu and others in Hyderabad

Worthy son of a worthy father

I couldn’t have said no, to this worthy son of a worthy father. Sudhakar Reddy is an award-winning journalist. He has won national and international laurels for his work. His book gives insights into what all has gone wrong with the fragile ecosystem spread over Chittoor, Nellore, Prakasam, Kadapa and Kurnool districts of Andhra Pradesh. Red Sanders thrived in this habitat till a few decades ago. Now it is facing the threat of extinction. Like all good things in this world, Red Sanders also fell prey to the greed of man. Sri Sudhakar explains as to how the high and mighty fuelled this project of destruction. The destruction, not only of the Red Sanders species, but of the ecosystem as a whole. This species is known for preventing forest fires from spreading in the vulnerable forests of Seshachalam hills. Consequences of this ecological destruction are there for us to see globally. The need of the hour is to address these issues locally.

60 lakh red sanders trees were cut in last two decades

According to an estimate presented by the author, in the last two decades, nearly 60 lakh Red Sanders trees were cut. Smuggling from the forest area spread over 5,30,097 hectares resulted in the arrest of over 2000 persons from the neighbouring state alone. Many have lost lives. Law breakers as well as enforcers of the law suffered fatalities. The author rightly named the book ‘Blood Sanders’, as smuggling of this high value timber has led to unprecedented bloodshed. It is second only to sandalwood smuggling, perhaps. As the author mentions, ‘The AP Forest Act’ was amended in 2016 to deal sternly with the smuggling of Red Sanders. However, what is lacking is the necessary will to enforce these laws. This is where the media needs to play its role. The collective failures of individuals and institutions entrusted with the role of protectors need to be highlighted by the media. People need to be made aware of deficiencies in the process. This job can only be done by the media. As a person whose first job was that of a journalist, I am taking the liberty to share a few thoughts on present day media.

Author Sudhakar Reddy speaking at the function

Everything in our garden appears rosy

The concept of investigative journalism is unfortunately vanishing from the media canvas. It is true at least in the Indian context. When we were growing up, we eagerly looked forward to news papers exposing big scandals. The news papers never disappointed us. In the past, we have witnessed newspaper reports on scandals and misconduct creating waves leading to serious consequences. Barring one or two, I don’t recall any story of such magnitude in the recent years. Everything in our garden appears to be rosy. I leave it to you to arrive at your own conclusions. I am reminded of what Gandhi ji said about newspapers, I quote: “The newspapers should be read for the study of facts. They should not be allowed to kill the habit of independent thinking.” I hope the media introspects and tests itself against these words of Mahatma. Coming back to the book that we released today, Sudhakar Reddy made some very good suggestions for protection and conservation of Red Sanders and the Seshachalam Forest Ecosystem. It includes creating a conducive atmosphere for the cultivation, harvest and trade of Red Sanders.

Locals should be involved in conservation

I have a suggestion to make. Locals, if involved in conservation efforts, will make a huge difference. Tiger reserves and wild life sanctuaries have benefitted from engaging tribals who are forest dwellers as forest guards. With this approach, prospective poachers of wild life were turned into wild life protectors as they found dependable livelihood. The authorities here can try this method in Seshachalam by way of employing tribals and other forest dwellers as forest guards. Possibly, the smugglers may then find it difficult to attract them for the job of tree felling. Let me not come between you and the panel of experienced and knowledgeable experts who are going to enlighten the gathering about the wide gamut of issues involved. I wish Sudhakar Reddy all the very best in his future endeavours. Keep up your good work. I thank Sudhakar Reddy and the organisers for giving me the opportunity to take part in this event.

Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu
Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu
Author is Dean, Professor of law at Mahindra University at Hyderabad and former Central Information Commissioner. He published a number books in English and Telugu.

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