Irresponsible Muckraking: EPW Trustees Make Grave Allegations Against Sacked Editor Thakurta

Irresponsible Muckraking: EPW Trustees Make Grave Allegations Against Sacked Editor ThakurtaFormer EPW editor Paranjoy Guha Thakurta (Priyanka Parashar/Mint via Getty Images)

The members of prestigious Sameeksha Trust, which runs one of India's respected journal Economic and Political Weakly (EPW), have accused EPW’s former editor Paranjoy Guha Thakurta of dubious journalistic practices. Thakurta was asked to put in his papers at a special meeting of the Sameeksha Trust on 18 July 2017 where the differences between trustees and the editor over withdrawal of an investigative piece published by the journal couldn’t be resolved. Paranjoy had unilaterally responded to a legal notice issued in his name and that of the trust without taking the trustees into confidence. After his sacking, Thakurta made various statements in the press, hinting that he was ousted for writing against Gujarati businessman Gautam Adani.

EPW trustees, in a press release published on 2 August, have alleged that Thakurta’s article on Adani was riddled with allegations based on information from anonymous sources, often just a single unnamed source; several assertions were unsubstantiated by evidence and there were insinuations of impropriety against several persons, not backed by any firm evidence. It is important to note that the trust itself is full of left leaning academicians and social scientists such as Romila Thapar, who are actively hostile to the current establishment.

A detailed investigative piece by Quint also points to the serious possibility that Adani story was nothing but a poor hit job, masquerading as investigative journalism.

The accusations by EPW trustees come close on the heels of the journal’s employees also making grave allegations against Thakurta, accusing him of both professional impropriety and sexual misconduct. In a letter to Sameeksha Trust, the employees write:

Mr Guha Thakurta would repeatedly undermine the review process for reasons best known to himself, despite our repeated advice against such actions. He has done this for his associates, persons of influence, and has entertained partisan endorsements to research papers without following the review process and evaluating the merit of the article, which was completely unbecoming of the editor.
Mr Guha Thakurta also promised higher payments to certain authors (usually his old associates), which would have been 20 times higher than the token amounts paid to our contributors. These higher payments were resisted by EPW’s manager. These payments would probably have been made if Mr Guha Thakurta had continued as editor. This is yet another instance of unequal treatment of authors, and favouring of associates; all serious ethical concerns.
There has been a grave assault on the work culture in the EPW office, with many of us on staff being made to feel uncomfortable by inappropriate, sexual and sexist comments made by Mr Guha Thakurta. In all, the egalitarian culture of the office had been compromised.

EPW trustees write that when asked for supporting evidence for his piece, Mr. Guha Thakurta didn’t provide it. “It was the unanimous view of the Trustees that the article, as published, failed to meet the standards of EPW. More disturbingly, this article did not go through the EPW editorial review process. Hence, the Editor was advised to withdraw the article published in EPW online on 17 June 2017, with which he readily agreed,” the press release reads.

It is increasingly becoming clear that the trust, composed mostly of trenchant critics of NDA, may have fired Thakurta for poor journalistic practices and professional misconduct but a shrill campaign has been launched by a section of academic left establishment to frame the issue as an assault on freedom of press. The trust clearly seems to have committed a monumental blunder by hiring a habitual muckraker to edit a scholarly publication.