REUTER’s biased, misleading, erroneous reporting about Ken Betwa Project

ABOVE: A fabulous view of Ken river. Nesting sites of Long-billed vultures are to the right. All will go under water if Ken-Betwa linkup is carried out, Photo by AJT Johnsingh

On Sept 1, 2017, Reuters published a report[i] about Interlinking of Rivers, with focus on Modi flagging off work on Ken Betwa Project. The report was carried VERY widely, including in local, national and international media. [This note was sent as a letter to a number of persons at Reuters and Thomson Reuters on Sept 2, 2017, there has been no response so far as I publish this several hours later.]

Unfortunately, it’s a biased, very misleading, erroneous report with factual inaccuracies that one does not expect in a Reuters report. 

Immediately on seeing the report, I had called Mr Mayank Bhardwaj, the Reuters reporter who filed this report and tried to explain to him how erroneous the report was, but I did not see any encouraging or confidence inspiring response from him. So I had circulated a note (see at the end of the article below) on Facebook and on a couple of e-groups. The note was circulated with the attached screen shot that shows that the Ken Betwa Project DOES NOT have environment clearance. Below I have listed a few of the important inaccuracies or misleading portions from the Reuters report.

Screen Shot on Sept 1 evening of EC section of MoEF website that clearly shows no EC for Ken Betwa Project

  1. The report says: “Around half a dozen clearances, including on environmental and forest protection, have been obtained for the scheme to link the Ken and Betwa, according to two sources and documents seen by Reuters.” This is factually incorrect claim and the Ken Betwa Project DOES NOT HAVE either Environment Clearance Letter or Final Forest Clearance Letter. Whether the project has final environment and forest clearance letters, as required by law, is a matter of fact that can be verified from the right websites, the concerned ministries or those who follow such projects, say like SANDRP. (if you would like to see how consistently SANDRP has been writing about this Ken Betwa Project, see our blog and search for Ken Betwa: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/). It’s clear that the reporter has not done any of these and just reproduced the claims by his sources and the cabinet note that reporter was shown. As explained to reporter by me, these are not matters of claim, but matters of fact, if the project has the necessary clearance letters or not.

Screen shot of the Reuters story page

In fact there are so many complications and contradictions between conditions of forest and wildlife clearance vs environment appraisal details, that, as I explained to the reporter, (and you can see these details on our blog) that the project cannot get these clearances any time soon. I am not going into these details here, but would be happy to explain if you want.

  1. The report says: “Modi’s cabinet is likely to give its final go-ahead for the project within a couple of weeks, sources say, after which he will flag off construction at the site about 805 km (500 miles) from New Delhi, currently marked only by rows of red concrete slabs placed on the ground.” This gives the impression that the project is ready to take off after cabinet gives its go ahead in a couple of weeks. THIS IS COMPLETELY WRONG CLAIM. The project cannot go ahead without 1. Environment Clearance (EC) letter, which is not yet issued. 2. Final forest clearance (FC) letter which is not issued. 3. The wildlife clearance letter is under scrutiny and litigation before Central Empowered Committee appointed by the Supreme Court (SC) of India and then it will be followed by SC scrutiny. 4. Implementation agreement between the project states of MP and UP, does not exist, since there is no agreement about even basic aspects as to how much water each of the state will get, see TOI report on Sept 2, 2017[ii] (but this issue was in public domain for long.) 5. The EC and FC are open to challenge before NGT (National Green Tribunal) once these letters are issued, since the project did not have either proper public consultation process, nor credible environment impact assessment.

All these are matters of facts, available in public domain. To give an impression, under this situation that the construction can flag off once Cabinet clears it is not only factually wrong, gives totally wrong impression, but it possibly plays into the hands of the vested interests.

  1. The report says: “The river-linking projects was first proposed in 2002 by the last BJP-led government. Work stalled because state governments sparred over water sharing contracts and clearances got stuck in India’s notoriously ponderous bureaucracy.” Firstly, on Facts. ILR (Inter Linking of Rivers) project was NOT proposed in 2002. It was proposed way back in 1980 and then NWDA[iii] (National Water Development Agency) was set up in 1981-82 to start studies about it. The reporter is right, the Water Sharing agreement between MP and UP is still NOT there for this project, but the reporter does not know this! What the reporter than says about “clearances got stuck in India’s notoriously ponderous bureaucracy” shows how little knowledge he has either about the clearance processes or how little respect he has for prudent environment governance. The fact is India’s MoEF is not particularly known to be environmental conscious ministry and has 100% clearance track record on dams and river valley projects. Ken Betwa project came to MoEF for EC in 2015 and was recommended clearance in 2016 (however, no clearance letter issues till date), in fact after Union Water Resources Minister Sushri Uma Bharti threatened to go on protest if the project is not cleared soon! I wish the Reuter reporter was serious enough to go into the details of these processes and try and understand what goes on there.
  2. The report says: “Authorities say they have planned for the safety of tigers and vultures.” Again in stead of reproducing the claim of the authorities, the reporter could have found out if the Environment Management Plan is ready and what it constitutes. He would have found out that the EMP is still being formulated and in fact the Expert Appraisal Committee of MoEF had earlier asked for independent review of the EMP once is is done! About vultures of course there is no EMP, nor there is any for Gharials or Fish or the Ken River.
  3. The opinionated very first line of the report, “After years of foot-dragging… ” is itself problematic. It seems the reporter wanted the project so badly to go ahead and was disappointed that the govt was foot dragging against his wishes! This also shows lack of understanding of the processes involved in decision making for such projects.

As I told the reporter, most of these are matters of facts and not claims or views and one expects Reuter reports to be correct about facts that are available in public domain, rather than reproducing the claims of the authorities. Particularly when the subject is so important, one expects the reporter to take the trouble of verifying the facts from right quarters. This has clearly NOT happened in this case.

Newspaper clipping reporting opposition at Ken Betwa Public Hearing

I can go on with other problematic aspects of the report, including many on facts, including the cost of the project mentioned in the headline, but I will stop here.

The Trust Principles of Thomson Reuters[iv] that I just saw says: “Customers across the world depend on us to provide them with reliable and objective news and information. This means that we have a special need to safeguard our independence and integrity and avoid any bias which may stem from control by specific individuals or interests.”

Unfortunately, the report does not seem to follow any of these principles, as does not make efforts to provide reliable, objective and factually correct news and information, and the whole report is heavily biased in favour of a specific high investment project that the government of the day wants to push, representing specific interests.

I hope Reuters will take appropriate action in this regard.

Himanshu Thakkar (ht.sandrp@gmail.com)

ADDITIONAL INACCURACIES AS POINTED OUT BY Joanna Van Gruisen on her FB page.

For an international news agency, Reuters is shockingly ill-informed and misleads even on basic facts; also their journalist is disappointingly lacking in understanding of the issues involved. (“Modi’s $87 billion river-linking gamble set to take off as floods hit India”) I’d say they got more wrong than any other newspaper report on this subject. This is startlingly incredible since competition for misinformed reports over the last couple of years has been fierce! Why should anyone trust an agency that does such sloppy homework…

Simple facts like the distance of the canal planned to link the Ken to the Betwa river – they state it as 22 kms (14 miles). The EIA gives the length as 218.695 kms (approx. 135 miles).

Reuters say Phase I of the Ken-Betwa project will “generate thousands of megawatts of electricity”. The DPR and EIA clearly state the power component is only 60MW! That’s more of an exaggeration than Trump’s inauguration crowd assessment!

Reuters say “the government plans to clear out 6.5 percent of the forest reserve to build the dam”. The dam is in the core area of the Tiger Reserve and almost the entire submergence area (90 sq km) is within the Reserve. In fact Forest Department officials have shown that in total around 200 sq kms would be lost to this project which is closer to 30% of the National Park (the critical core area of the reserve) – a total death knell for the tiger population in Bundelkhand.
The journalist talks of floods after “two years of poor rainfall”. Where has he been? At least in central India, last year’s monsoon saw one of the highest rainfalls of the decade.

Himanshu Thakkar clarifies much of the nonsense written about clearances and delays to the linking project. But one might also note that “ponderous bureaucracy” and ‘sparring’ states were not the only or main reason why the project did not move forward. The Congress government’s attitude was different from BJP’s; after examination, the Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh pronounced the project “disastrous”. Indeed from both ecological and sociological perspectives it does promise to be totally calamitous – for many reasons.

The Ken Betwa link has nothing to do with droughts and floods – both rivers rise in similar areas and share the same climate. In fact it takes water from one of the most drought prone parts of the country to provide it to another that is already better irrigated.
And by the way, there are cogent arguments that dams often cause rather than prevent floods. The dam age has passed. The US is decommissioning dams at the rate of 60-70 a year. Why are we aiming to build more and more in India?

Joanna Van Gruisen (joannavg@gmail.com)

The Note that was circulated on FB and e-groups on Sept 1, 2017:

This is such a non sense, factually incorrect report.

http://in.reuters.com/article/india-rivers/modis-87-billion-river-linking-gamble-set-to-take-off-as-floods-hit-india-idINKCN1BC3HJ

I called up the journalist who wrote it, I told him the Env clearance does not exist, final forest clearance does not exist, conditional Wild Life Clearance is under scrutiny by CEC to be followed by SC scrutiny and inter state agreement between MP and UP does not exist. The recommendation of Env Clearance (the actual EC letter is yet to be issued, see the attached screen shot of MoEF’s EC website) is no longer valid since both Forest and Wildlife clearance recommendation are conditional to taking the power component out of the forest/ protected area, but the EC recommendation is for the project with power component of the project remaining inside the forest/ protected area. The Project does not even have any public hearings in the canal and downstream affected areas, as required and the EIA by AFCL is one of the most flawed, dishonest impact assessments.

I told him he could have checked these facts from the concerned ministries or others who keep track of these things, before publishing the report. He had not. He said he will try to find out about reality of clearances from the ministry (which means he had not done it before publishing the report).

He said they worked on the story for a month, I said in that case, they should have checked the claims about clearances, when you had so much time.

The only defense he had was that clearances are CLAIMED in the Cabinet note and he asked me, will the govt claim clearances in cabinet note if they do not have? I told him, of course, as per Free Press Report[v] quoting sources from MoEF, the WR minister has in fact misguided the Parliament, the Cabinet note is not even a statutory document.

I told him a good journalist would check such facts and when such factually inaccuracies are pointed out, he will correct them, but he seemed disinterested to do any of it.

This is seriously problematic report about a flawed project. One wonders when Reuters does it, what can one do?

POST SCRIPT: 1. I had sent the above content as a letter to some persons in Reuters and Thomson Reuters on Sept 2, 2017.

2. ON SEPT 3, 2017, I received following response from Sanjiv Miglani (Spl Correspondent, Thomson Reuters, New Delhi) which said:

“Thanks Himanshu for raising your concerns about the article.

We have gone over the article once again as we did at several times during the month it was reported and edited.
The central point of approvals for the project is coming from the Water Resources Minister Sanjeev Balyan whom we have quoted saying that all the clearances have come through. He also said the approvals have come through in the past year supporting the main thrust of the story that the current administration is pushing ahead with the river linking plan.
We also have secondary sources corroborating the minister’s information including a cabinet note of the government.
We would expect a certain amount of responsibility on the part of a government minister as
also the framers of a written cabinet note which is a matter of government record now.  Neither has challenged any of the contents of the story.
As such, Reuters stands by the article.”

3. The same day, on Sept 3, 2017, I sent the following response to the same persons at Reuters/ Thomson Reuters to whom I had sent my earlier letter:

Thanks, for this response. 

Firstly, let me inform you all that the content of the letter (with some minor changes) have been published on our blog, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2017/09/02/reuters-biased-misleading-erroneous-reporting-about-ken-betwa-project/
 
There I will add this response from you along with my reply below. 
 
It is clear that the Reuters have such amazing faith in the statement of the minister and a secret cabinet note that they do not want to cross check the facts when it is so easily possible to cross check. Even the contrary facts are brought to the notice of Reuters, Reuters would refuse to look at them, since the minister and cabinet note says something else! 
 
That is amazing faith in the words of the government from a media organisation that is supposed to publicly vouch for the principles of independence, “reliable and objective news and information”, “safeguard our independence and integrity” and “avoid any bias”. Your organisation, your website says, is dedicated “to preserving its independence, integrity and freedom from bias in the gathering and dissemination of information and news.” Readers will decide from this report and your response how much you believe in these principles. 
 
Its equally amazing that you have also not bothered to respond to point wise issues that my letter has raised and in stead given a general faith in ministers and govt documents kind of reply. That also explains a lot. 
 
If Reuters or Thomson Reuters or any of you have anything else to add or if you decide to take any action in this regard, I would like to be informed, if possible.
4. We will update this further when we received any further reply from Reuters/ Thomson Reuters.

END NOTES:

[i] http://in.reuters.com/article/india-rivers/modis-87-billion-river-linking-gamble-set-to-take-off-as-floods-hit-india-idINKCN1BC3HJ

[ii] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bhopal/uma-bhartis-tweet-reveals-row-over-ken-betwa-river-linkage-project/articleshow/60313477.cms

[iii] http://www.nwda.gov.in/

[iv] https://www.thomsonreuters.com/en/about-us/trust-principles.html

[v] http://www.freepressjournal.in/india/river-interlinkingdid-uma-bharti-mislead-ls/1125654

2 Comments on “REUTER’s biased, misleading, erroneous reporting about Ken Betwa Project

  1. Why does this government persist in misleading the country in several matters of national interest?
    It’s appalling to note the totally unprofessional attitudes of govt representatives and certain individuals in hitherto trusted news sources.
    Just yesterday the Readers’ Editor of The Hindu has written about the dismal way in which media was misled ahead of the cabinet reshuffle, when one pack of jokers got replaced by another!!

    Like

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