From investigating the aftermath of a riot to following the trail of gold smugglers along the Indo-Nepal border, they dug deep to uncover the truth.
Kaunain Sheriff M of The Indian Express is the winner in the Investigative Reporting category for print, and S Mahesh Kumar of Manorama News is the winner of the award for broadcast media.
Sheriff’s investigation — which resulted in a three-part series called ‘The Muzaffarnagar Whitewash’ — revealed that in the six years following the Muzaffarnagar riots in 2013, all the 158 men accused of murder, gang rape and arson had walked free. Sheriff scrutinised court records, testimonies of complainants and witnesses and interviewed officials to discover that 53 men accused of murder had been let off.
“The first challenge was to access the documents. Rape cases are in-house proceedings so you cannot enter the court to witness the trials. It took days, sometimes even weeks, to get these documents. The delay in the trials was another challenge. The court would set a date for the hearing and the defence kept asking for another date. I had to travel from Delhi to Muzaffarnagar every time the court fixed a date and around 85 per cent of the time, I returned without anything when the trial was deferred. The third challenge was language. All the documents and court recordings were in Hindi which wasn’t easy to translate. So it took time to identify the glaring loopholes in the investigation,” says Sheriff.
The miscarriage of justice was grave. “It showed the prejudice in the system as the state government did not appeal against any of the acquittals, especially the rape cases, in the High Court. We also found how victim protection during the trials was totally compromised,” adds Sheriff.
Kumar’s investigative series, Operation Nepal Gold, exposed the gold smuggling racket along the porous Indo-Nepal border where operators took advantage of lenient check posts.
“We travelled along the dangerous routes through which gold is smuggled into the country by evading all kinds of taxes. We started our investigation by going to Kathmandu. We travelled from Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu to different places along with the gold carrier to collect information and film secret visuals of the illegal trade. We also gathered information by meeting some carriers in Nepal jails. In the jail and at the checkposts, we used spy cameras to avoid being caught,” says Kumar.
“After we exposed the names of Kerala-based smuggling mafia kingpins and details of the smuggling dens in Dubai, we again faced several threats from the mafia. The gold carriers who helped us unearth the smuggling routes and activities now get constant threats to lives,” adds Kumar.
After the expose, the Customs and DRI launched special probes to check the gold flow, leading to a 25-kg gold haul from Thiruvananthapuram airport.