An open letter to Tarun Tejpal: Hartman de Souza

On 27 October the Hindustan Times published an article by Hartman de Souza and on 30 October a response to it by Tarun Tejpal, editor of Tehelka newsmagazine. This guest post by HARTMAN DE SOUZA is his rejoinder

There are some of us in Goa who will know in about 20 days or so, thanks to two RTIs filed, whether Tarun Tejpal did in fact get all the necessary permissions and clearances needed to add to the lovely property he now owns in the village of Moira… or, as he more pointedly said of the village when he called me up in the Pune, “I mean, look at Moira man, it’s a dying Goan village” …emphasis on ‘dying’, and the implication being one suspects, that the Tejpals of the world can and will breathe life into it. I wonder if he remembers and can parse what I said to him in reply.

I mean what do you say to an urbane man of the world who tells you the launch of his book held at the Sunaparanta Centre of Arts and Culture, Panjim, owned and managed by a mining company desperately in need of reinventing itself in good light, was arranged by his publisher… and actually telling me he didn’t know there was a mining connection there.

This is perhaps the only time in my life that I wished I had a sexier phone so I could have recorded the damn conversation. I believe he may have told me that there are so many issues he has to follow he was not expected to know the ground realities of Goa. Of course I was angry. I told him there were artists with integrity in Goa who wouldn’t even shit in that aforementioned arts centre.

I am proud of having a hide thick enough to take on the Tejpals of this country, and that’s a tribe regrettably, that’s on the increase, cut-rate pomo intellectuals turned entrepreneurs. He’ll understand the context of this because he gave me the usual drivel of different perspectives and how one needs to resolve differences and ‘negotiate’ the terrain or some such blah, at which, in my politest tone, I merely said “I’ve heard this pomo shit before”.

I liked Tehelka from the time an old friend joined it as a start-up, my logic being impeccably simple: any magazine crazy enough to hire him would be one hell of a magazine. I will continue to read it, and will, as always, admire and be inspired by many of the younger writers they feature. But the same friend is deeply bitter about his earlier commitment to Tehelka and I often wonder why. Now maybe I’m beginning to realize why.

But now, just for the record, I am not angry with Tejpal, just incredibly sad about his comments on another reporter against whom he has cast some pretty horrible aspersions. Tejpal needs to know for the record that when he knocked this reporter down on the phone, there was no vegetarian Albert Pinto on the other side. Had he said this to me in person, I would have grabbed him by his shirt and pinned him against the wall. That anger he didn’t, unfortunately, see.

As a lowly features editor many moons ago, I gave this reporter his first assignment and later his first job. Tejpal should also know that all pro-environmentalists in Goa were over the top when they knew that Tehelka was sending someone down to Goa to do a story on illegal mining. I, of course, was much more forthright. I was convinced Tehelka would screw the swine. When the reporter got in touch with me, I linked him with others in this pro-environment movement building up in Goa, so should Tejpal like, I’d be happy to publish the reporter’s painstaking mails to us, seeking further information, asking for clarifications, and building the base of his contacts. I hope it doesn’t come to this, but should Tejpal also want, I’d be happy to draft a letter of protest to him and get it signed by all those pro-environmentalists who interacted with the reporter.

But Tejpal wants facts, so let’s give him facts:

The report that didn’t appear in Tehelka was probably the first in-depth, comprehensive and damning indictment of how Goa was being looted, and who the looters were. The said reporter visited between March 1 and 12 finding out, among other things that Goa’s chief minister, Digambar aka Digunder Kamat, the Mines minister under two different parties for the last 12 years, was allowing the large scale plunder of Goa’s iron ore.

He dug out details of how mining corporates were extracting ore several times what they had environmental clearances for with the CM’s collusion. He nailed details for 48 mines, more than half of the state’s 90 active mines. There were the better known villains like Vedanta, the smaller ones such as Salgaokar and Chowgule, colluding to push villagers off their land with threats and intimidation, extracting ore twice and even four times over what they had permits for. He brought to light in the report that 95 lakh tonnes of iron ore had been illegally mined during the last four years itself – a theft of nearly Rs 800 crore. The reporter also meticulously studied Karnataka Lok Ayukta Santosh Hegde’s report noting that iron ore stolen from Bellary was being shipped to Goa to blend with the local ore. It was he who found the missing links in this great mine robbery!

Now things read like the films Tejpal seems fixated on. When the reporter went to Digunder Kamat on March 11 to interview him for his response to these findings, at the end of the interview Kamat asked him on which date Tarun Tejpal was visiting Goa, because he had sent word through a powerful Delhi politician that he planned a visit.

When the reporter got back to Delhi, he was told by his editors that something was missing in his story and why didn’t he get more details. He got back to some of us, worked a few more days and re-wrote the story including the evidence he felt his editors wanted. That was late March and early April – the same week that we in Goa know that either Tejpal or his emissary were flying to Goa to meet the chief minister. One editor at the magazine promised that the story would be carried in two weeks’ time, and that they were waiting for a few permits that Tehelka’s marketing team had gone to get from CM Kamat for a forthcoming Tehelka event. Till date, of course, no story on Goa’s illegal mining ever appeared in Tejpal’s ‘independent news magazine’.

The reporter whom Tejpal now derides accepted a job offer from on May 18. He left Tehelka in June after co-authoring this cover story on Dayanidhi Maran

He made one more exhaustive trip to Goa and published his report of public resources being stolen, on The same month, Tehelka began carrying advertisements for its ideas jamboree scheduled in Goa from November 4th to 6th. Go see the Thinkfest ads where Tehelka tom-toms its patrons in its September and October issues Volume 8, Issues 39, 40, 41 and 42.

While the mining story on Goa did not conform to Tejpal’s notion of ‘public interest’, it burnt a lot of fingers. This was the report of September 22 that appeared in Firstpost: Yeddy, Reddy, Kamat? Goa’s Rs 800 cr mining scam is next.

The same week, two reporters from the Hindustan Times began a series of several detailed reports following up on the scale of ore theft.

TV channels now caught on — CNBC, TimesNow, IBN.

The sad story of Goa’s forests and water had finally become public!

The state-legislature appointed Public Accounts Committee (PAC) led by Manohar Parrikar that was stopped from making its report on illegal mining public on October 5, said that in the last five years alone, iron ore worth about Rs. 3,500 crore has been exported without paying any royalty! More than four times what the Tehelka/Firstpost  reporter had estimated in his investigations. Mines over 60 feet deep were drying up Goa’s groundwater. Its life-giving streams were dying. PAC said it was not just chief minister Digunder Kamat involved, but also his health minister Vishwajit Rane, his urban development minister Joaquim Alemao, his home minister Ravi Naik’s son Roy Naik and Goa Congress president Subhash Shirodkar – all were hands in glove!

Meanwhile, after the last few days’ spokes in their wheels, the link announcing the names of their Goa Thinkfest patrons no longer pops-up when you open the Tehelka website. Though it is possible to see the list of patrons in these logos displayed at the top of the Thinkfest website.

Match the logo that cheerfully announces ‘Go Goa- A Perfect Holiday Destination’ if you will (just below Tata Steel), from what Goa government displays on its tourism website. In other words, the Goa government is one of the sponsors.

And if more proof of the collusion of the powers-that-be was needed, a quick local phone call to the Goa’s Department of Tourism office (0832-243875051) and Rajesh Kale, Assistant Director Department of Tourism in CM’s Kamat government confirms that his office is “looking after Tehelka Thinkfest”, that on this warm Tuesday afternoon on November 1, three days before Tehelka ThinkFest is scheduled to start in Goa, he is “waiting for the program plan from Tehelka”!

The real estate lobby in Goa has got dangerously powerful, and like mining, intent on changing the face of Goa in the name of development for a few. Bear in mind that one of the firms sponsoring the Tehelka jamboree has had its project in Goa halted by court orders. I wonder what’s their interest in Goa apart from allowing the free flow of intellectual discourse via Tehelka’s software.

So here we have Tejpal running an “iconic weekly newsmagazine”, respected for its “hard investigative and public interest journalism; its literary refinements; and its in-depth analyses”, that boasts of its “unique voice …associated with fearlessness, integrity and truth”, who killed – I repeat, killed a crucial story of how Goa was being looted and then set about organising a self-aggrandising jamboree with money and official support from the same corrupt Digunder Kamat government in Goa.

I think Tejpal got the plot a bit wrong. He spent too much time focussing on my anger and too little to stop himself mouthing platitudes about his “good fight” for the “just and right”. He was so engrossed in his insipid defence of his own ‘heroism’ that he missed one important little fact – that the Tehelka ThinkFest website displays three Tehelka covers to showcase the magazine’s “iconoclasm”; the first of these three, is by the same ‘poorly-performing’, incompetent reporter, (reference a story on Suresh Kalmadi):

This could, of course, be stupidity, but I suspect its more shamelessness.

Bunty, you did say before we signed off that you had my number and would call me and we could grab a cup of coffee together, and I graciously agreed. That stands cancelled man!

(Hartman de Souza is an environmentalist and theatre veteran based in Pune.)

Previously by Hartman de Souza in Kafila:

From Kafila archives:




54 thoughts on “An open letter to Tarun Tejpal: Hartman de Souza”

  1. Man, that is quite a slap!! You know, the coffee might stand cancelled, but you never know; when you two meet the next time it is going to be one grand event.
    On another note, I had written to several of your Goan environmentalists and others a few weeks ago about a similar event in coastal karnataka and the ongoing loot. No one responded – except for Sajeer Abdul Rahman from the Kabani group in Kerala. Maybe the Goan CRZ environmentalists have more on their plate and do not respond to calls for help from other states.
    Anyways, what a post…!!!!


  2. Dear Hartman, your rage and desperation is understandable. Tejpal does not do all this
    with deliberate planning and premeditation. You must realize that journalists and writers who get ‘star’ status are under constant pressure from the establishment that be: in the actual context of India, the triumvirate of politics, big business and the media. This is what
    is happening all over the world. The think tank jamboree planned by Tehelka reminds me
    of the Literary festivals mounted at Jaipur, Goa, Kovalam, etc promoter being our William
    Darlymple. The shocking thing is: when I checked up the profile of The Hay festival, it is
    shown to have been awarded as the best enterprise for international commerce by the
    British government! Kerala, though without any ore or mine, is undergoing a similar pillage
    in the name of development, rapacious real estate investors being the predators. All my
    support to the Goan Environmentalists. You will need true bravery to safeguard what we all
    cherish as the most precious for life: water, earth, air and the vegetation.


  3. Thanks for posting this very informative piece. It just proves that as long as a media house is supported by ads and depends on government patronage, they will “manufacture consent.” (Hermann and Chomsky’s landmark book)


  4. Thanks for this inside story out. I think it was long due since the quality of journalism at Tehelka is dwindling. I and my of my friends have many a times discussed this downfall of integrity. Not just this story but, there had been few others as well, if one looks at them closely that how they came at a crucial juncture and turned the tide of the wind.


  5. And to cut a jackfruit tree for a spa! What an ill cultured boor! They cut the trees of the maidan and call it landscaping. More like scraping the land. Do not be surprised if an upcoming issue pontificates in haloed self righteousness on the greening of the earth and environment change. And these chaps get riled when the learned Katju says they lack a certain fundamental standard. The excited media reaction is in itself the best validation of Justice Katju’s comment.


  6. Will Tehelka just answer one simple question: what the f*** is a “Thinkfest” and why the hell should a magazine seeking to be “free, fair and fearless” be organising one? What is the bloody point of putting together flashy individuals in a lavish hotel in the ultimate touristy cliche of India…individuals united only by their flaming success within a system that Tehelka apparently seeks to critique? Oh and there are the token activists and upright sorts of course…what a pantheon, do please check out their epithets – Hands-on Politician (Kapil Sibal) talking to Magic Maker (Aamir Khan), all the while interjected by either the Mumbai Diarist (Kiran Rao) or the Social Diarist (Ashis Nandy). Sometimes its Savvy Scion (Omar Abdullah) versus Able Tactician (Nitin Gadkari). If it all gets too crudely power-politics type, we can always draw upon the Grassroot Visionary (Kopa Kunjam) or the Nuance Activist (Aruna Roy). What the hell is going on? Does Tejpal feel all this is part of the complexity of the world? What will happen to future coverage by Tehelka of some of the ‘Thinkfest’ guests Tejpal and staff have wined and dined with? Will a Tehelka reporter wince when a damning detail emerges during investigations, simply because “oh but s/he seemed like such a nice person at Goa”? It would have been funny if it wasn’t such a let-down. Perhaps, in keeping with these democratic times, we at Kafila should organise a ‘Dudfest’ at the same venue (given how we’re loaded with moolah and sponsors!!). Oh sorry! The Thinkfest website happily announces that all rooms at the Grand Hyatt, Goa are now “booked to maximum capacity”. I do wonder what being booked to half capacity means, unless of course one is referring to the radical commitments of Tehelka.
    And thank you, Hartman de Souza, for the rage.


  7. Hartman, I completely agree with what you have written about Tarun Tejpal. But nothing happens to star editors. Strangely, Barkha Dutt, another iconic journalist cum phone friend of Nira Radia, was the star at Tehelka’s thinkfest in Goa. A movement needed in this country to expose editors.


    1. I agree with Akshaya.. this country really needs to clean up on its high profile editors.. are they all buying huge parcels of land for fancy bungalows in Goa? The mining is going so fast if nothing is done right now its going to be just bled land. WTF do we need a Think fest there for?? One wonders about journalistic morality or the lack of it!


  8. Modern journalism’s credo: Damn politicians but shield corporates and reward broker-editors. And whatever happens keep MUM!!!


  9. This is brilliant..Coming back to Tehelka’s claims on reporting Odisha we have serious issues when it published an advert-interview of Naveen and

    A rejoinder-CSR feature on bloody Vedanta:

    Down To Earth in the past has similarly exploited our activists enthusiasm and later published a full page advert ofa Goan mining Company Fomento!!!! in 2007/8?

    The first story on Vedanta-Sterlite was published in 2004 in two parts: That was it. After that they never even bothered to ask us before doing anything with Niyamgiri. Luckily that was at a time we were hardly concerned about English language media..we had good scribes who picked up all our infos and gave haedlines in Odia newspapers.

    Unfortunately the rest of India connects to each other through English language media.

    And the outside world it is the NGOS who dominate their narration.

    The battle over caught between these shady actors who gain their credibility because of some of our own lack of access to resources.

    Telling the Truth often comes with a heavy price.

    Samarendra Das


    1. @samarendra,

      A story on the Orissa mining scam filed when the mining scam was junked for reasons known better to the editors.Now with these new happenings it doesn’t take much to figure out why.
      But the main point is what difference is it going to make? Tejpal will make the spa and earn his mullah and continue to do the same to make more resorts and spas in the country. End of story.


  10. We owe one to Hartman and his friends for this. Tarun Tajpal has been one of the biggest let downs in recent memory. ( Well the Radia clan actually never raised our expectations).
    All my support to your efforts.


  11. So, one more media house stands EXPOSED! Kudos to Mr. Hartman for calling a spade a spade.

    Tehelka is abusing faith of the people who read it. Period.

    Any self respecting journalist must not work for such institution.


  12. Well thank you for the wonderful article.I used to think that there couldnt be a better magazine than tehelka but of late i felt,it lacked the fire that it had in the beginning.Good things dont certainly last..Good luck


  13. Once these editors journalists opinion makers have earned their boots albeit with some help from connected people and of cronyism they sit on their laurels and become lazy. Many of them become plain blackmailers in the guise of their profession and start having airs about them. They start imagining that they have some kind of power over powerful people. These opinion makers are the most dangerous to the society because the forums from which they speak are being seen as a form of knowledge entertainment by susceptible people whose knowledge of and analysis of events is handicapped anyway. They tend to sermonize and many of the audience tend to make their opinions based on what they hear from these holier than thou individuals.


  14. We were waiting for this to happen.When you need government patronage for investigative journalism then you are finished.Being obsessed with one’s own heroics reflect Tejpal’s intellectual bankruptcy.


  15. Oh BTW where is the very media which went ballistic on covering the anti corruption movement coverage???? Anna……Mr Kejriwal ??? Anyone reading this?


  16. Deccan Herald reports:

    Tejpal’s remarks are just one part of the controversy around “Think 2011.” Alerted by indignant activists Union Minister for Rural Development Jairam Ramesh chose not to turn up at the “Tehelka-Newsweek” show on Saturday.

    He was scheduled to participate in a session on the ‘dilemmas of development in a democracy’ with Omar Abdullah.

    “We warned him that the hotel is owned by Shahid Balwa and Vinod Goenka who’re in jail for the 2G scam. There’s a petition before the High Court against the property for CRZ violations,” an activist said. Designer Wendell Rodricks too boycotted the event over the hotel’s illegalities.

    Affidavit filed

    The Goa government has filed an affidavit in the court confirming the DB Hospitality property violated CRZ regulations. Yet the state government is a sponsor-partner in the Tehelka event.

    “The Tehelka people approached us and we have given them some support through the tourism department, industries and art and culture,” Chief Minister Digambar Kamat told Deccan Herald. Apart from a commitment of Rs 30 lakh for the event, the Goa government is hosting two dinners for 600 well-heeled “Think” attendees. It will also foot the bill for all the Central and outstation ministers participating and sponsor some sessions.

    “We have given them all the logistical support like buses and cars for the guests and protocol support,” a government aide said. Tejpal had several discussions with the chief minister in the run-up to the event.


  17. Dear Hartman, fab piece. Needs a wider readership. I also happened to be associated with the mighty Tejpal. Everyone in Delhi knows that a fat cat businessman (dealing in selling chicken)-cum MP is the financer-in-chief of ‘Tehelka’- supposedly India’s leading ‘anti-establishment’ magazine. The gentleman in question is a Trinamool Congress MP from Jharkhand – a state notorious for sending such worthies to the Rajya Sabha( a Reliance backed MP is also part of the flock). Interestingly the said MP was caught at the Delhi airport by Customs guys, spiriting away crores in hard cash to bolster his party’s prospects at the hustings early this year. His cavalier comments about the journo is perfectly understandable if you know that in January this year nearly 60 were fired without a warning with not more than a month’s salary to them. Than the buzz we heard (from friends in Tehelka) was that the funds meant to be deployed for the ill-fated newspaper was siphoned off to buy property in Goa!


    1. @Sandy — I am one of the 60 and agree every bit with what you say..he did not even have the decency to get off his Pajero to talk to the suddenly jobless people on the posh GK–II market street– so much for a bleeding heart journo!!!!


      1. Yes that visual Aditi is unforgettable- straight out of a soft drink ad..or maybe a version of the ‘complete man’ with ‘flowing mane’ (whatever remains of it)- fabindia kurta and a blood red Pajero. To those dazzled by the product called “Tehelka’, they out to know it is one of the worst family run media outfits with Tejpal’s assorted kin and chums placed as suction pumps at strategic points within the company to divert flowing fund.


  18. The contrast between Hartman and Tejpal reminded me of the following fable.

    The philosopher Diogenes was eating bread and lentils for supper. He was seen by the philosopher Aristippus, who lived comfortably by flattering the king. Said Aristippus, “If you would learn to be subservient to the king you would not have to live on lentils.”

    Said Diogenes, “Learn to live on lentils and you will not have to be subservient to the king.”

    Hats off to Hartman for speaking out the truth. You are a huge inspiration.



  19. Did any one else find the title of Tarun Tejpal’s HT piece ‘Albert Pinto ko Gussa kyon aat hai” sterotypical at best and racist at worst. Just because on surface it would seem that fictional Albert Pinto and real Hartman DeSouza are Christians etc etc…but what was the relevance of the title and the piece


  20. Just to say thank god for the internet so you can read all sides and over a period of time and possibly even with hindsight form a true opinion.


  21. The biggest advertiser in tehelka magazine is from a shady institution called IIPM owned by a gentleman called Arindam Choudhury. Thje degrees given by IIPM, as claimed in the advertyisements in tehelka are invalid, claims UGC. He was present at Thinkfest and was sen hobnobbing with Kapil sibal.

    Thinkfest is merely a networking event that Tarun tejpal organises for people who fund him..


  22. Thanks Hartman.The worst part is that media calls the govt. servants and politicians corrupt.A classic case of the coal calling the kettle black.


  23. Dear Bing, more power to you… he will speak more, I’m sure, and make a bigger fool of himself.


  24. Hartman de Sousa often gets away with trashing colleagues such a Tarun Tejpal because he seems to have a lot of time on his hands for this activity, funded as he and others of his ilk often are, by grants from global funding agencies like Ford Foundation and MacArthur. What Hartman never admits, however, is that the corporations these foundations are invested in make Goa mine-owners look like fairy princesses. Hartman also either deliberately misrepresents facts, or doesn’t do his homework: Sunaparanta is a non-profit and is neither owned nor managed by a mining company. The premises are personally owned by Dattaraj V Salgaocar, its funding comes from a small personal endowment of Rs 25 lakhs per annum, and the rest of the funding is generated by the art activities of Sunaparanta itself. In addition, from its inception in 2009, up through Oct 31st 2011, Sunaparanta was conceived, managed and directed by me, Margaret Mascarenhas, not by a “mining company”, as Hartman is fully aware. I would not be surprised to discover that much of what Hartman has written in his “rejoinder” is simply more vicious fudging of facts for reasons best known to himself.


    1. Someone should also pick up the story on Tejpal’s big property and purchase of a hill near pandampur (near Jilling hill) in environmentally dying Uttarakhand. Good job Hartman!….Agar aise story ( Goa and Thinkfest) per gussa nahi aata hai to such much kuch gad-bad hai!


  25. Now, that Tarun Tejpal has been caught with his pants down, the author of this 2011 story should forward it to the Goa Police. This article has incredible amount of information that could form the basis for an investigation into the nefarious activities of Tehelka.


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