No discretionary quotas for journalists please

03 Jan,2012

By Ranjona Banerji


The story of the day, on Tuesday, January 3, as far as the media is concerned is the front page expose by The Indian Express, headlined: “Meant for ‘distressed’, Orissa plot quota goes to babus, judges, journalists”. The strap below reads: “Row leads to CM scrapping discretionary land or house allotments last month”.


The upshot is that a system of patronage was established in 1985 by the JB Patnaik government to allot houses or land for “the dependent of a person who has made a supreme sacrifice for the nation, but has not been properly rehabilitated so far; member of a family who has been a victim of unforeseen circumstances (terrorist attack, earthquake, flood etc); physically handicapped person…” The categories go on to include police, military, paramilitary and government employees permanently disabled on duty, the families of those who lost their lives in abnormal circumstances as well as eminent professionals, sportspeople, artists, literary figures and women of “high achievement in distress’ and individual cases of extreme hardship.


After this, the beneficiaries appear to have been ministers, bureaucrats, judges and journalists. A scandal where a minister okayed the allotment of two houses to the family of another led Naveen Patnaik to abolish this discretionary quota.


The story, does not tell us how many distressed, disabled people in extreme hardship actually got any land or houses, but it does list the journalists who benefited.


This raises a very serious question for journalists everywhere, many of whom have profited under similar schemes elsewhere in the country. The Express story, while naming benefiting politicians and so on has broken the covenant of silence on journalistic transgressions by printing the names of the lucky journalists and the minister under whose discretion they got so lucky. The names belong to several media houses and some are familiar.


One journalist has defended his allotment, pointing out that when he got his plot in 1997, the scheme was legal. He also said that other journalists had lied that they had no other properties – a requirement of this lucky dip system.


The question here is of something else. To what extent can journalists be objective in their reporting/covering/editing/commenting on government affairs if they benefit from government schemes and awards? Does acceptance of such largesse come under the tag of corruption or just luck? Is objecting to such acceptance an expression of self-righteousness or sour grapes?


The profession of journalism has been under the scanner recently for a number of not very salubrious reasons. This is one more criticism which ought to stick. Paid news campaigns as orchestrated by media houses is totally reprehensible. But so is the custom of individual journalists accepting what cannot be called gifts but will have to be seen as bribes which compromise not only their integrity but that of all their fellows.


The Indian Express has done the profession a great service by printing the names of journalists who are beneficiaries. If we are to fight both media corruption and paid news, then the only way is for us to become each other’s watchdogs. We cannot be sanctimonious about everyone else but ignore our own transgressions.


The way The Hindu exposed the Hindustan Times on its story on infant gender changes in Indore or The Guardian has been relentlessly attacking News of the World and others on phone-hacking, is it time for Indian journalists to stop applying the discretionary quota to each other?

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3 responses to “No discretionary quotas for journalists please”

  1. soumya mohapatra says:

    No prizes for guessing why Bbsrscribe remains anonymous.Let the Bbsrscribe explain why the Indian Express and the Hindu reporters were scared to name the IAS and IPS officers who made the most of the minister’s discretionary quota over the years.Simple, they sit right on their laps.Some of the so-called holy cows in Odisha journalist circles occupy government quarters despite owning apartments in the city and there are some who used their positions to steer clear of chrages of wife-beating and sexual misconduct with their female colleagues.The truth is only one expose’ away.

  2. Bbsrscribe says:

    Soumya Mohapatra comments are a load of crap. When ministers are doling out discretionary quotas to journalists, that a quid pro quo exists is beyond any doubt. Journos have no business to accept favours, which discretionary quotas obviously are. And surely the rates the government offers the plots for are well below the existing market rate. The plots in Bhubaneswar were surely a lot cheaper that what the “dishonest” journalists would have had to shell out had they bought them from private parties. And who says some of these journos were anti-government journos? Some did pretend to be anti-government, but as their mideeds now tell us, they never were.They were wolves in sheep’s clothing.No better than the politicians they serve. Period!

  3. soumya mohapatra says:

    Have jounalists in Odisha really cornered houses and plots meant for the ‘distressed ? The truth is that the so-called basis for allocation of houses or plots under the discretionary quota as cited by the Express report refers to a Supeme Court guideline applicable to allocation of petrol pumps. In Odisha there has been no defined rule in regard to allocation of houses/plots. In any case how would a distressed person pay 8 to 50 lakh rupees for a plot or a house ?

    Two formerUrban Development ministers have stated repeatedly on record that there are no rules governing the quota allocations that vary from 5 to 10% of the total houses or plots under sale to the public. Moreover, the list include names of media persons who are known for their anti-establishment stance and who never applied or requested for a house or plot but were offered the same for their professional eminence. There is no evidence to suggest that the quota allocations meant a quid proquo.

    The standard practice in the state until 2011 was to use the discretionary quota to offer houses/ plots to a small number of selected people who had applied for the same but had lost in the public lotteries held for the distribution of the same. The reason why many people seek a govt plot or house is to ensure there are no litigations. 70% of the houses /plots in the state capital are owned by the government and that percentage of houses in the city including Naveen Niwas have been built on plots allocated by the General Administration department entirely on the basis of discretion. Also the ‘beneficiaries’ of the quota allocations never received any discounts or concessions.

    The obvious reason why a non-existent ‘rule’ has been cited by the IE reporter is only to show the beneficiaries in bad light. And clearly this has more to do with personal vendetta than any honest and truthful investigation.