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RNG Awards: Their stories, in their words

Finding their feet after the brutal sweep of Covid, the winners of the 2021/2022 Ramnath Goenka Awards for Excellence in Journalism showed true grit in telling human stories, be it a job scam, child labour, illegal mining, tribal justice, the challenges of Kashmiri Pandits or weaponisation of spyware. Investigative Reporting Print A Rs 25,000-crore scam that robbed job-seekers Devesh Kumar Arun Gondane, Loksatta After the then Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis announced his government would give one lakh jobs, exams were conducted by a company called MahaIT. What piqued my interest was a report on how job-seekers from a particular family had got similar marks, a virtual impossibility. An investigation revealed how people were buying their slots and I found a scam worth Rs 25,000 crore. By the time my report came out, exams for 18,000 posts had been conducted for class II and class III posts. Most examinees belonged to underprivileged backgrounds and spent whatever they could on preparations for a good score. This group was cheated. After a ruckus in the Assembly, the company conducting the exam was blacklisted. Broadcast A question of funds Meghnad Bose The Quint During the pandemic, the Government announced that Rs 100 crore would be given from the PM Cares Fund to support COVID-19 vaccine designers and developers. More than 18 months later, there was no clarity on who had gotten this money or if it was even transferred or not. I felt the government owed it to the people to reveal where the fund’s money was going instead of getting away with just making a statement. One of the major challenges was tracing the money. We had to speak to multiple government agencies. The PM Cares Fund wasn’t covered under RTI. We had to follow every single lead we had. No matter how powerful a government is or thinks it is, as journalists we should continue to hold it accountable for its actions. UNCOVERING INVISIBLE INDIA Print Save the child labourer Monica Jha, FiftyTwo.in An NGO tipped me off about how children from Bihar were being trafficked to Jaipur for bangle-making. The child trafficker got life imprisonment, which is quite rare. What we found was that traffickers are sometimes neighbours and extended family. A lot of NGOs have come together in Bihar and Jaipur to free these child labourers and are working on 50 such cases involving 250 children. We’re hoping for similar outcomes. Broadcast Ear to the ground Vishnukant Tiwari, The Quint Tribals in Bastar were killed while protesting over a police camp that had come up allegedly without their knowledge. The tribals want roads, hospitals and education but they don’t want heavy military presence. The fundamental tussle, I realised, was their concern about preserving their way of life. The tribals were shy but after the second day of my week-long stay, they opened up in a way I could not have imagined. REPORTING ON POLITICS & GOVERNMENT Print Unpeeling a cover-up Ritika Chopra, The Indian Express As a journalist covering the Election Commission, I’ve always strived to cover stories that illustrate the political pressure on it and the challenges to its autonomy from outside, under an overweening government, and from within. Reporting the Election Commissioners’ meeting with the PMO and the divide among the three of them was challenging, given that the institution was trying its best to keep it under wraps. A political firestorm followed with questions raised over the impartiality of the Commission. Broadcast Warrior women Shakti Chandran, BRUT Our documentary on India’s first all-female commando unit, patrolling the streets of Assam in the face of escalating crimes against women, was an eye-opener. We found how they inspired change and gave hope to locals. Yet they fought daily challenges in their homes, beginning with convincing their families why it was important for them to be warriors. Challenges for the team included gaining their trust for interviews, getting them to speak about their individual personal stories and struggles. BUSINESS AND ECONOMIC JOURNALISM PRINT A voice for small business Aditya Kalra & Steve Stecklow, Thomson Reuters Small traders selling mobile phones would complain about Amazon’s business practices. So we hunted for evidence, finding thousands of pages of Amazon’s internal papers showing how they were circumventing India’s laws, which were effectively hurting the small traders. The impact surprised us as well. Traders called for a ban on Amazon. The Enforcement Directorate called for more documents, forcing Amazon to change their business model. FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT COVERING INDIA PRINT Uncovering Pegasus Joanna Slater & Niha Masih, The Washington Post We published reports about the weaponisation of surveillance technology and malware to frame a group of public intellectuals and human rights activists charged for terrorism by law enforcement authorities in India. We also documented how some of those jailed featured on a list that included numbers targetted for surveillance with Pegasus spyware that is licensed only to government agencies. The Supreme Court appointed a committee to determine whether the spyware was acquired by the federal or state governments. Hindi Print The unseen lynchings Kirti Dubey, BBC News Hindi While the Hapur lynching is talked about, there were multiple such cases in UP that nobody talks about where families await justice as witnesses turn hostile and offenders get off the hook. Broadcast Why we need data Jugal Purohit, BBC News Hindi We punched holes in the government’s assurance that families of healthcare workers, who died during Covid, would get Rs 50 lakh. We found data gaps and realised the real story began when the show was over. PRAKASH KARDALEY MEMORIAL AWARD FOR CIVIC JOURNALISM PRINT Hidden story of Covid Vinod Kumar Menon, Mid-Day How do you ensure dignity in death when the pandemic is devouring you like a forest fire? There was discrimination at cremation sites when it came to unidentified bodies, as identified bodies were given precedence for rites. Covid had a hidden grim reality. Healthcare workers lacked PPE suits and drivers carrying the sick and dead just wore an ordinary mask. The police department driver was HIV positive but shielded himself with a basic mask. Workers were using toilet cleaners to sanitise themselves. After the story, they were given safety kits. SPORTS JOURNALISM Print The five-year chase Mahender Singh Manral & Mihir Vasavda, The Indian Express We followed Deepak Pahal, alias “the boxer”, who is among Delhi’s most-wanted criminals but was once a boxing champion. We had been tracking the story for over five years. In 2016, Pahal had helped a gangster, Jetender Gogi, escape police custody. By 2017 and 2018, he was involved in a lot of criminal cases. And by 2021 he had become the biggest gangster of Delhi. We delved deeper into the story when, in 2021, Pahal helped free one of Gogi’s associates, Fajja, from police custody. The biggest challenge was to get childhood information on Pahal. His family had gone into a shell, were hesitant to talk and there was very little information in the public domain on his boxing career. Background work and cross-checking was a challenge. To profile a criminal, who is also absconding, is very challenging. People do not want to give any information and were hesitant but there was a lot of thrill while navigating his past life. The biggest lesson we learnt while covering this story is patience and gathering information dedicatedly. We learnt how to be determined enough to track a story for five long years. Regional languages Print Justice for undertrials Shabitha MK, Mathrubhumi Daily I worked with women inmates at three jails in Kerala —Kannur, Thiruvananthapuram and Thrissur over two years as they waited for justice. I looked into the offences committed, circumstances that compelled them to commit such acts and some false cases as well. Even jail superintendents helped. The story had a huge impact as NGOs came forward to provide legal aid to undertrial prisoners. Broadcast A school for tribals Sofia Bind Media One TV My story is about the earliest and oldest primitive tribe called Chola Naykar in Kerala. These tribals refuse to send their children to school, who drop out even after completing the 11th grade. One of the major challenges I faced was accessibility. The story caught the attention of the tribal department and efforts were initiated to start a community school tailored to their concerns and interests. BOOKS (NON-FICTION) An insider view of China The Long Game Vijay Gokhale As a diplomat over 40 years, my biggest challenge was to learn how to write in simple and understandable English. What we knew about China was only through Western discourse but the book helped people learn more about their governance and politics. Everything that I have captured in my book is through primary sources and memoirs of retired officials as I could not access documents. ENVIRONMENT, SCIENCES AND TECHNOLOGY REPORTING Print A red flag in the Himalayas Jayashree Nandi, Hindustan Times When you look at the ecological degradation of Uttarakhand or the Himalayas, you know how development projects are gradually making the region vulnerable. All these projects are so close to the paraglacial zone. Although the flash floods of February 2021 were devastating, the hydropark and the Char Dham project were the Government’s important infrastructure projects and closer to its idea of development in the Himalayas. At the back of my mind I knew that the story would question the very basis of these projects. But I got enough material, compelling the government to emphasise that hydropark projects in the upper reaches would not be allowed. Locals said they became more aware. Broadcast End to illegal coal mining Princess Giri Rashir, East Mojo Something needs to be done about the mushrooming of illegal coke plants in the East and West Khasi Hills districts in Meghalaya. These are very close to human habitats and have been a health hazard. Upon seeing numerous protests, especially by the Environment Coordination Committee (ECC), I did a walkthrough in front of heaps of coal lying near the coke plants. There was always a sense of fear if I was being followed since East Jaintia Hills District, particularly Elaka Sutnga, is a hotspot for legal and illegal coal mining. Then the government decided to form a technical committee to look into such units. The High Court gave an order to shut them down, which was a major win for the ECC and locals. PHOTOJOURNALISM Olympian moment Gurinder Osan, Press trust of India The Tokyo Olympics 2020 was not just a sports event, it was about documenting a mass public event and an attempt to come out of the shadow of the Covid pandemic. Getting to Tokyo was a big deal in itself, clearing all medical tests and paperwork, and interacting with Japanese who are not that well-versed in English. It was also difficult to get your test done every day, figure out the next event and reach the stadium in time. However, all was worth it when we saw Neeraj Chopra win the gold medal in the men’s javelin throw event, gifting India its first Olympic gold in athletics. Chopra started as an underdog, beginning with an 87.03 m in his first attempt and improving it to 87.58 m. The real crowning moment was when Neeraj’s rival, German superstar Johannes Vetter, said he would have far-reaching implications in javelin-throwing. Investigative Reporting Print Manual scavengers in UP forced to get uterus removed Zoya Hussain & Hera Rizwan, TRT World Broadcast Cops pick up innocent boys Saurabh Shukla, NDTV In June 2022, a small conflict broke out between police and a few rioters in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh. The police took six to seven boys into custody. I had tweeted a video where the police were mercilessly beating up a few boys with sticks and fists. When asked, the SSP of Saharanpur said the video was not from Saharanpur. I went to Saharanpur and showed the family of the boys the video, in which they could identify five of them as their sons. Later, an SIT was formed. After the report was aired, the court acquitted those boys due to lack of evidence and the SSP was transferred from Saharanpur. UNCOVERING INVISIBLE INDIA Print Adivasis face health crisis Rupsa Chakraborty, The Indian Express Our series of stories revealed how adivasis in Maharashtra’s Nandurbar district’s lacked basic healthcare, despite the state’s $400+ billion GSDP. While pursuing the story, the public health department was reluctant to share information, necessitating the filing of RTIs at the district level to acquire data on maternal deaths and sickle cell anaemia. Challenging commutes through mountainous terrain, especially at night with little lighting and communicating with the tribals posed significant hurdles. The Bombay High Court incorporated the series into ongoing hearings for public interest litigations filed in 2006 that highlighted the alarming number of children and women deaths due to malnutrition in Maharashtra. FEATURE WRITING Print For truth, go on ground Raj Chengappa, India Today My story was about the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits. I spoke to not only the Kashmiri Pandits who had to flee the Valley but also to those who moved to Kashmir from Jammu. It was a very sensitive issue but we tried to balance the reportage. I spoke to a range of officials and also to ex-CM Farooq Abdullah. It was a pretty moving experience. Kashmir is, in many senses, one of the most sensitive zones that we have to cover. The advice I’d give young journalists is you have to pursue the truth and keep asking questions. Never be satisfied because the truth has many dimensions. Truth in many senses is a perception. Therefore, go to the actual sources of what happened rather than doing armchair journalism. Go out in the field. PRAKASH KARDALEY MEMORIAL AWARD FOR CIVIC JOURNALISM PRINT Manual scavenging still exists across India Azeefa Fathima, Balakrishna Ganeshan & Prajwal Bhat, The News Minute We did a series of five stories to investigate the prevalence of manual scavenging, three decades after the practice was banned. The series critically examined the role of district administrations and the measures implemented to eradicate the practice. We covered five states — Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala. Balakrishna reported about the practice and how the municipalities were combating it, the kind of investments they were making and the rehabilitation steps they were taking. He reported from three states — Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Fathima reported from Kerala and Prajwal from Karnataka. We know each other for a really long time. So, before even before this series, Balakrishna already had filed a couple of stories on the issue. It was easy for Fathima and Prajwal to follow what kind of aspects we are looking into. Hindi Print Exploiting Awas Yojana Anand Choudhary, India Today Through my my story, I investigated how the PM Awas Yojana in Rajasthan was not helping the people it was intended for. Instead, people who had big houses were availing the scheme. It was a challenge to find those people who owned big houses and benefited from the scheme, take their pictures and talk to them. It also took a lot of work to get in touch with the poor who were eligible for the scheme. It was my duty as a journalist to help the deprived and that is what I did. Broadcast High levels of arsenic Hridayesh Joshi, Newslaundry It took us six months to make a documentary on arsenicosis, which is a disease that is caused when the arsenic level in groundwater increases to hazardous levels. While the safe limit for arsenic in water is 10 µg/L(ppb), we found villages between Punjab and West Bengal that had water with arsenic content between 600-1000 µg/L(ppb). Close to 150 of the 700 zillas we visited showed high levels of arsenic in their water. This will affect children when they grow up and affect our human resources. SPORTS JOURNALISM Print IAS officers misuse clout Andrew Amsan, The Indian Express My story was on the IAS officer couple who walked their dog at Thayagraj Stadium, New Delhi. The security guards there would vacate the stadium before the stipulated practice time so that the couple could walk their dog. The biggest challenge here was getting evidence. Getting the visual proof was the most difficult part. It was tricky because there wasn’t any space in the stadium where you could properly stand and take a picture. We went to the old style basic journalism of just reporting what we saw. REPORTING ON POLITICS & GOVERNMENT Print Layers in the Hijab row Prajwal Bhat, The News Minute Through a series of stories, I reported on the 2022 hijab agitations in Karnataka. The challenge in reporting was to ascertain who was affected by the controversy. These were the hijab-wearing Muslim women. The number of Muslim women enrolled in government colleges dropped sharply in the following year, while there was no considerable change observed in the enrolment of Hindu students. The other challenge was to recognise the state’s role in ensuring government institutes are sites of social transformation and fraternity. Broadcast The exodus and return Abhishek Bhalla, indiatoday.com My story was about the challenges the Kashmiri Pandits faced in the wake of the recent targetted killings. I looked at the larger picture of what was happening in Kashmir. I found out that several Kashmiri Pandits, who moved to Kashmir from Jammu under the government scheme, were slowly moving back to Jammu. Yet, there were old dilapidated buildings where Kashmiri Pandits lived. While there was a perception that Kashmiris were safer after the abrogation of Article 370, the story on the ground revealed otherwise. Broadcast Salt workers lead a hard life Vikas Trivedi, BBC News Hindi My story was about the salt workers in the Rann of Kutch, where the most amount of salt is produced in India. To farm salt, these workers move and live for nine months in a particular region. There is usually a landowner who hires these workers. They have to produce more than 100 kg of salt to even make the amount of money we pay to buy 1 kg of salt. They live a very difficult life — their children don’t go to school and women don’t get medical attention. The women workers have to work when they are on their periods and children who help their parents suffer bruises on their hands and feet. This story has been narrated several times but their lives have not changed. We all consume salt but don’t know where it comes from. Regional languages Print Uncovering the PSI scam Anand M Sowdi, Kannada Prabha Daily I did a series of stories regarding the PSI recruitment exams scam, which revealed the involvement of prominent individuals. I was subjected to ridicule and satirical remarks to undermine my confidence, even from senior members of the media. After we published a report stating that the illegal origin of the recruitment process was within the examination department, the investigating team of the CID apprehended the IPS officer in charge of that department. The former PM’s bodyguard, influential politicians were also implicated in the case. Print Stories need sensitivity Tejas Vaidya ,BBC News Gujarati My story captured the exodus of Muslims from Bilkis Bano’s village Randhikpur in Gujarat after the accused in the case were released from jail (in 2022). The villagers were afraid of something untoward happening to them after their release. When we went to the village, neither the accused, nor their families nor the villagers were ready to speak to us. To pursue sensitive stories like this, it is important to look at the cause from a woman’s perspective because they go through the biggest struggle. This ensures that the story’s sensitivity comes through. BOOKS (NON-FICTION) The socialist politician The Life and Times of George Fernandes Rahul Ramagundam This is a biography of George Fernandes, a socialist politician. It took me around 12 years to produce this book. I started this work in 2009 after I received the private papers from Fernandes. I started looking at it and went around looking for new archives. I interviewed around 200 people. I was not interested in speculative history and I focussed on documenting. For a politician, there is hardly any difference between public and private life. Yet, I researched his personal life through his writings to his wife, brothers, sisters and other close people. PHOTOJOURNALISM Exposing babugiri Abhinav Saha, The Indian Express This is my first award ever and this is always going to be very special. When I take a photograph and I share a moment with the people, I share my point of view through my lens, through my viewfinder. The response I get energises me. So in this particular case for which I won this award, I clicked the picture, and it was not about some stadium or an IAS or a dog, it was more about the babugiri mentality. I have covered riots, I have covered farmer protests, I have covered the farmers getting to the Red Fort, so each and every shoot for me has some challenges. I tried for four days to get this picture and eventually got on top of a nearby building to get this shot. After the photo was published, my purpose was solved when the access to the stadium for athletes was extended up to 10 pm. Several stadia and sports complexes were opened for the athletes thereafter; they got to practise again. BUSINESS AND ECONOMIC JOURNALISM Print Indian trains, Chinese wheels Twesh Mishra, The Economic Times My story was about Indian Railways using wheels imported from China. The timing of the imports is significant as it happened right after the COVID-19 pandemic. We realised how reliant we are on the Chinese government because the company that was awarded the tender had direct links with the Chinese government. The wheels were used in locally manufactured Vande Bharat trains as well. The story points at the geopolitical reasons why this is happening. The biggest challenge was to break out of this mould of how we tend to view business and economy journalism as just numbers, as just companies talking about themselves to something which has much wider ramifications of geopolitics as well. ENVIRONMENT, SCIENCES AND TECHNOLOGY REPORTING Print The threat to the Aravallis Basant Kumar & Ayush Tiwari, Newslaundry Our series of stories revealed how politicians are capturing land in the Aravallis, an ecologically sensitive zone, under the garb of building religious institutions. We had the documents of these areas but it was difficult to find the exact contested land parcel in the Aravallis forest. The cross-checking process was time-consuming. Further, it was difficult to explain the effect of deforestation in the Aravallis in simple language to our readers. Broadcast Best practices of country’s nine cleanest cities Multimedia team, Down To Earth We looked at the best solid waste management practices across nine cities in different of India. We tried to find out why these cities were called the cleanest in India. For our series of stories, we went with a magnifying glass to look at every aspect of waste management. This exercise had never been done before and with this set of stories, we have created a template for others to follow. As the scale of the operation was so big, we travelled to nine different cities. There were logistical challenges, language barriers and most importantly, challeneges in verifying the claim of municipalities. We overcame these with research and ground reporting. For the stories, we pored over several official documents and did our own research, which are crucial for any story.

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