Saturday, July 29, 2017

Top journal EPW staff raise pitch, accuse ex-editor Thakurta of compromising egalitarian culture

By Our Representative
A letter purportedly written by the prestigious Economic and Political Weekly's (EPW's) editorial staff, claimed to be authentic, and taking rounds in the social media, has sharply criticized its former editor Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, who controversially resigned from his post, for compromising "the egalitarian culture of the office".
Reproduced by an independent site, the letter, written a week after Thakurta's exit after his article on the Adani Group was withdrawn, says, "There has been a grave assault on the work culture in the EPW office, with many of us on staff being made to feel uncomfortable by inappropriate,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."
While the names of the letter writers has been "retracted" by the site which has published the letter, which finds way to the well-known document sharing site, scribd.com, too, the content has been characterised as "sordid and depressing."
Written on July 25 and addressed to the trustees, the letter concedes that the withdrawal of Thakurta's article “Modi Government’s Rs 500 Crore Bonanza to Adani Group Company ” (EPW , 19 June 2017) "is a serious matter, and editorially, to our knowledge, EPW has not had to resort to such a drastic step in recent times (except in one case of substantial plagiarism)".
Calling this, and another decision which followed -- cancelation “Corporate Investigations”, a special issue of 39 pages, which included Thakurta's article, among four other investigations, scheduled for July 22, 2017 issue -- as disturbing as the owner, Sameeksha Trust "is not known to interfere with EPW’s day-to-day editorial functioning", the letter says, under Thakurta there was "grave assault on the work culture" which put "the reputation of EPW in jeopardy."
Writing to the trustees -- who include some of India's top academics and financial experts -- the staff insists, "We seek answers to some questions that concern the editorial autonomy of the magazine, the need for a channel of communication between the staff and Trustees, and would also like to explain the challenges we faced as an editorial team over the last 15 months."
Underlining that till March 2016, when Thakurta was appointed, EPW was "led by editors who oversaw the functioning of the organisation, the welfare of its staff, along with providing hands-on editorship", the letter, however, notes, "It would not be wrong to say that the EPW’s functioning depended heavily on the editor."
"EPW’s institutional culture needs to be one that is mindful of keeping up with changing times, but must do so while retaining core values"

"Such a model has worked mainly because editors in the past had shown dedication, taken up the challenge, and provided outstanding leadership", the letter says, though complaining, "Not every editor will meet the diverse requirements of EPW."
"EPW’s institutional culture needs to be one that is mindful of keeping up with changing times, but must do so while retaining core values", the letter says, adding, "The magazine will have to be taken into the future keeping its strengths in mind, while ensuring continuity."
Wanting the new editor to "support" and "respond" to new challenges of changes in technology, even as contemplating how to raise finances "among other things", the letter says, "There needs to be a set of advisors available to the editor and to the staff of EPW. A channel of communication and regular contact needs to be established between the Trust and the editorial staff."
Pointing out that other than Sameeksha Trust chairman DN Ghosh who visits the office whenever he is in Mumbai, the letter says, "To the best of our knowledge no Trustee has visited us and met us over the past year and perhaps earlier."
"Over the past 15 months, the editorial team of EPW has had to face several challenges. The biggest of these challenges was to safeguard the review process that was painstakingly built over many years", the letter says, adding, "This has been under pressure from various quarters" with Thakurta especially undermining "the review process for reasons best known to himself, despite our repeated advice against such actions."
It particularly says, "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."
Thus, it says, Thakurta "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 Thakurta had continued as editor."
Calling it "another instance of unequal treatment of authors, and favouring of associates; all serious ethical concerns", the letter says, "In fact, on Thakurta’s very first day in office he ensured the publication of his own article titled, 'How Over-Invoicing of Imported Coal has Increased Power Tariffs' ( EPW, April 4, 2016), which was a unilateral decision."
"We tried to ensure that all authors are treated equally (with due consideration for marginalised causes and voices) and subjected to editorial oversight. Unfortunately, given the powers vested in the editor and his obstinacy, our views did not always prevail", the letter says.

1 comment:

Ghanshyam said...

As I have been associated with EPW as a contributor since its inceptions, in fact, I also published in Economic Weekly, I am pained to read this, the behviour of the former editor. I wish the new editor and the Trust would restore the collective functioning of the journal.