Culture

The Adani Investigation Taken Down By EPW Is a Matter of Grave Public Interest

The Sameeksha Trust has not explained its specific issues with the Adani article, while Paranjoy Guha Thakurta has said he has evidence for all the allegations made in it.

The focus of the controversy must remain on the public interest question, as to why the Adani article was pulled down summarily without so much as a formal explanation. Credit: paranjoy.in/EPW/PTI

The focus of the controversy must remain on the public interest question, as to why the Adani article was pulled down summarily without so much as a formal explanation. Credit: paranjoy.in/EPW/PTI

There is a misplaced sense of gloating among the sympathisers of the current regime that the liberal community is divided on the controversial removal of a published investigative article on the Adani Group’s alleged tax evasion from the website of the prestigious weekly publication, Economic & Political Weekly (EPW).

The editor of EPW and the lead author of the investigative article, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, had no option but to resign after his article was summarily removed at the behest of the Sameeksha Trust, which publishes the weekly magazine. Naturally, this caused outrage among intellectuals, academics and readers of EPW in India and around the world.

Indeed, the ruling establishment is pleased as punch that a large number of well-known academics and intellectuals led by Amartya Sen are questioning the decision by the Sameeksha Trust, which is managed by eminent academics such as Deepak Nayyar and Romila Thapar, among others. Ironically, it is the NDA government that has answers to many of the key questions raised in the article. But it seems in no mood to part with information in regard to its dealings with the Adani group. This is the substantive issue raised by the investigative article.

Based on what the Sameeksha Trust said in its statement, it was not happy with the way Guha Thakurta was running the publication. A letter from the senior editorial staff of EPW to the members of Sameeksha Trust also alleges that Guha Thakurta, who took over as editor 15 months ago, was not observing well-established protocols of editorial functioning at the EPW. Guha Thakurta has said he is willing to answer the questions raised by the staff about his style of functioning. Anyway, this is clearly an internal matter of the organisation and has little bearing on the larger question of public interest which has arisen because of the manner in which the trust decided to pull down the article on Adani Power Ltd – without so much as formally giving reasons for the sudden retraction.

Significantly, even the letter written by the senior editorial staff of EPW to the trust members starts by raising the critical question of why the trust decided to remove the Adani article. The letter clearly points out that never before in the history of the EPW had an article been taken down, except on one occasion when there was proven plagiarism.

The letter goes further to seek answers from the trust members as to whether the EPW would enjoy editorial freedom in its day-to-day functioning and what would be the future relationship between the trust and the editorial staff. A lot of questions have also been raised by the staff vis-à-vis both the Sameeksha Trust and the publication’s editor. It is self-evident that the issues raised about the editor are in the nature of internal editorial protocol violations, but the answers sought from the trust over the pulling down of the Adani article clearly fall in the realm of public interest. So the focus of the entire controversy must remain on the public interest question, as to why the article was pulled down summarily without so much as a formal explanation.

Given its collective wisdom and past reputation for transparency as an institution, the Sameeksha Trust must  explain why it chose to summarily remove the article from the EPW website. This becomes imperative after the editor has admitted to and apologised for the procedural lapse on his part of not informing the trust members about the legal notice received from the Adani group and for replying to the notice on behalf of the trust without its approval. The editor has also resigned since. But the main question, raised by all, including the senior EPW staff, remains unanswered: What is the reason for the disappearance of the article?

The larger public interest question is even more relevant from another standpoint. Given the political environment today, government and big corporates appear to be colluding to withhold information which could potentially expose the nexus between key politicians and businessmen. For example, the government has fully investigated and detailed findings of  over-invoicing of power equipment and coal imports to the tune of over Rs. 15,000 crore by the Adani, Tata and Anil Ambani groups. These findings arrived at by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence have been shared with the media by conscientious bureaucrats in the system. But the government refuses to acknowledge the existence of such official findings. Of course, the companies concerned keep denying that such investigations have happened. The government, on its part,   also refuses to take action. This is precisely what has happened in the case of the report that EPW has now taken down. Sources have shared details of alleged violations which neither the company nor the finance ministry wants to acknowledge

There is reference to a “refund” of Rs 506 crore for the Adani group. The orders of the high court and the Supreme Court do not record a clear averment on the part of either the government or Adani as to whether the original duty was paid. Indeed, till date there is no assertion from either Adani or the government on whether it was paid in the first place. All manner of public issues have cropped up in the wake of this transaction that may not have been. The nation must know the facts.

According to Guha Thakurta, he has documents to show the original duty remains unpaid, although the Union finance ministry has processed the refund application of Adani Power. The question of whether Adani Power indeed paid the original duty is still open. Interestingly, though Adani Power has won the case in the Supreme Court regarding the duty refund claim, the finance ministry has yet to make the payment to the company. At the same time, the finance ministry is refusing to confirm whether the original duty had been paid by the company. Indeed, if it is revealed later that the original duty was not paid, the government could face perjury charges as the courts have so far been given the impression that the duty was paid, based on which the company claimed a refund. This case is very much alive, according to Guha Thakurta. And its grave public interest dimension cannot be denied by anyone, least of all the Sameeksha Trust.