After OpIndia report, NDTV withdraws Sagarmala petition. Read why.

On the 7th of September, our columnist Ashutosh Muglikar had revealed a dark secret of NDTV. An organisation which was claiming to be a media house, and slowly slithered into the dangerous territory of becoming an NGO which is blocking India’s developmental leap. The matter was largely unrpeorted by media for a long time, and we highlighted this.

NDTV, a media company, filed a petition before the National Green Tribunal (NGT) making a “Direct Attack” on the Modi Government’s Sagar Mala plans. An Analysis of the proceedings together with news items threw some interesting details. NDTV in its petition has prayed for:

  • “stopping of work” on all new ports as an interim measure,
  • “civil and criminal action” be taken against authorities, governments and private companies
  • formulation of a “national coastal policy”
  • creation of a restoration fund
  • cumulative environmental, economic and social impact assessment

We asked some pertinent questions on this matter:

  1. How does a media company become an expert on environmental issues?
  2. On what basis did NDTV conclude that Governments deserve civil and criminal action for their “neglect, over-sight, and complicit actions”?
  3. Did NDTV submit any “reports” from “experts” to back their claims?
  4. Has NDTV challenged the Environmental impact assessment” as done by ministries?
  5. Is NGT empowered to direct formulation of “coastal policies”?
  6. Is NDTV’s demand for a blanket scrapping of the Sagarmala projects justified? Or does it reek of some obstructionist tactic?
  7. How is NDTV “empowered” under its Memorandum and Articles of Association” to take up “environmental issues”? A quick analysis of the Memorandum of Association of NDTV shows they have a vague power under Clause 3 (B) (32) to investigate value of any “asset” but it is still not clear if they can file a case or not.
  8. Are all the shareholders of the company aware of these antics of NDTV, which is clearly drifting away from its stated goals of being a media house?
  9. Any spend on legal and other fees on an activity which NDTV is basically not supposed to indulge in, is justified?
    Does NDTV itself being embroiled in numerous tax scandals, have the moral right to be pontificating on other issues?
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The only tenuous link of a media company like NDTV to this NGO-esque action could have been their 2011 “Save The Coast” campaign which “highlighted” how developmental activities are hazardous to India’s coastline. But most of the above questions were extremely valid.

Now, on 16th September 2016, within 2 weeks of our scathing report, NDTV took a U-Turn.  According to the order passed by the NGT, NDTV had filed an application to withdraw the petition.

ngt-ndtv

What made NDTV change this stance suddenly? The stated reason is:

Applicant wishes to withdraw this Application with liberty to file a fresh Application after averring proper facts, grounds and relief that would squarely fall within the ambit and scope to Section 14 of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010

NDTV claims that they now wish to withdraw the application, keeping a window open to file a fresh petition after verifying the facts and ensuring that the matter would fall within the ambit of NGT. So even if we go by this stated reason, does it mean NDTV had not in fact studied the facts before filing this application? Which means it was a premature move? Is this how they practice their journalism too? Writing reports and opinions before studying facts?This was one of the points we had raised in our original article revealing this petition.

The Sagarmala project was at a stage of infancy when NDTV went for the petition. Worse, they demanded a blanket scrapping of all the sub-projects on a flimsy ground. The Government had not even put out detailed plans. How and why had NDTV felt the urgent need to stall this project at such an early stage? This much they have admitted themselves that they had not done a thorough study. So what was the motive?

These are the stated reasons. The unstated reasons could well be legal and market driven. As mentioned in our questions, it was unclear whether NDTV’s Memorandum and Articles of Association empowered it to get into NGO mode. A violation of a company’s Memorandum and Articles of Association is a serious issue.

Secondly, as we had asked earlier, were the shareholders of NDTV, a public company, taken into confidence before NDTV departed from its publicly known business? Did any major shareholders apply pressure of NDTV to stop this anti-development petition once our report exposed NDTV?

Thirdly, the Sagarmala project will benefit practically every industry in India, and in turn Indians. Large corporates are also major sponsors of NDTV’s advertisements and various events. Did such corporates turn the screw on the loss-ridden NDTV and force their hand?

Whatever may be the reason, we must continue to remain vigilant. NDTV has kept the door open to come back and threaten Sagarmala again. Whether it is a face-saving escape route or a statement of intent is yet to be seen. But givens NDTV’s track record of being anti-India on many occasions, one cannot sleep in peace.

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