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Samar Halarnkar and Ethics?

Author: Dr. MMS
Publication: Amishra77.com
Date: September 9, 2012
URL: http://amishra77.com/2012/09/09/samar-halarnkar-and-the-art-of-article-writing/

Let us presume there are two people named Samar and Frances.

Below I am going to reproduce, verbatim, some extracts from an article each wrote at different times and in different publications.  The extracts from article by Samar will be followed by extracts from article of Frances.

At present, just compare the two extracts in each exhibit, one by Samar and the other by Frances.

Exhibit 01:

Samar: “In 1993, when 11% of its 2.5 million people lived in absolute poverty and a fifth of Belo’s children went hungry, a newly-elected government declared that food was a fundamental right of every citizen”

Frances: “Belo, a city of 2.5 million people, once had 11 percent of its population living in absolute poverty, and almost 20 percent of its children going hungry. Then in 1993, a newly elected administration declared food a right of citizenship”

Exhibit 02:

Samar: “These did not remain words. Patrus Ananais, then Belo’s new mayor, created a council of businessmen, church leaders, labour representatives and other citizens to launch the battle against hunger.”

Frances: “The new mayor, Patrus Ananias—now leader of the federal anti-hunger effort—began by creating a city agency, which included assembling a 20-member council of citizen, labor, business, and church representatives to advise in the design and implementation of a new food system.”

Exhibit 03:

Samar: “Local farmers were, and are, given prime public spots to sell their produce to consumers, thus eliminating retail commissions that reached 100%, a situation not unfamiliar to India. The poor got access to cheap food, and farmers, themselves poor, prospered at a time when farm incomes were declining across Brazil.”

Frances: “It offered local family farmers dozens of choice spots of public space on which to sell to urban consumers, essentially redistributing retailer mark-ups on produce—which often reached 100 percent—to consumers and the farmers. Farmers’ profits grew, since there was no wholesaler taking a cut. And poor people got access to fresh, healthy food.”

Exhibit 04:

Samar: “In addition, Belo grants entrepreneurs rights to run, on public land, 34 local retail markets, where the government fixes the price, usually about two-thirds of the market price, for about 20 healthy foods. Other food can be sold at market price.”

Frances: “In addition to the farmer-run stands, the city makes good food available by offering entrepreneurs the opportunity to bid on the right to use well-trafficked plots of city land for “ABC” markets, from the Portuguese acronym for “food at low prices.” Today there are 34 such markets where the city determines a set price—about two-thirds of the market price—of about twenty healthy items, mostly from in-state farmers and chosen by store-owners. Everything else they can sell at the market price.”

Exhibit 05

Samar: “Perhaps the biggest direct cushion against hunger is Belo’s series of government-run cafeterias. Each offers people — not just to those officially declared poor — hot meals (rice, beans, salad, ground beef and an apple) for about Rs. 50.”

Frances: “People’s Restaurants” (Restaurante Popular), plus a few smaller venues, that daily serve 12,000 or more people using mostly locally grown food for the equivalent of less than 50 cents a meal.

Exhibit 06

Samar: ‘The local university is deeply involved in keeping the system honest and functioning. Students survey the prices of more than 40 basic foods, supply these to local media outlets and paste them on walls and bus stands.”

Frances: “For instance, the city, in partnership with a local university, is working to “keep the market honest in part simply by providing information,” Adriana told us. They survey the price of 45 basic foods and household items at dozens of supermarkets, then post the results at bus stops”

Now I do not want you to bore with further exhibits (although there are a few more) so let me summarize in a few points below:

1. Who is Samar? 

Samar is Samar Halarnkar. Who is he? As per last available public information, he is Editor-at-large (whatever that means) of Hindustan Times, a very prominent English language National Newspaper in  India.

2. Who is Frances? 

Frances is Frances Moore Lappé. Who is she? Frances has done a life time work on hunger, poverty and environment and has authored 18 books, among them the best selling, “Diet for a Small Planet”.

3. What is the above all about:

Samar wrote a piece titled “Not Much on the Plate” in Hindustan Times on April 11, 2012. He was writing on India’s abysmal failure in controlling poverty and hunger and the impending arrival of Food Security Bill as a means to solve it. Apparently Samar wanted to educate the readers as to how the problem has been solved elsewhere in the world. By his own admission Samar has never been to Brazil (at least not till the time of publication of this piece) but he has been merely “following” the success story of Belo Horizonte and wanted the readers to benefit from his knowledge.

Frances, the world-renowned expert on the field, also wrote on the Belo Horizonte experiment. When? On Feb 13, 2009 for Yes Magazine.  You read it right, more than 3 years before Samar.

Now read the extracts again. In each exhibit. And compare. If you deduce that Samar, writing on his self-proclaimed area of interest, 3 years later, offers absolutely nothing new, as compared to what Frances wrote in 2009, then you conclude the same as me and many others.  If you deduce that in fact most of the wordings are also same, then you conclude the same as me. If you deduce that EVERY information in Samar’s article about Belo is the same as that in the article of Frances, then you deduce the same as me.If you deduce that this is a straight lift off, without attribution, then you might not be far off the mark.

Here is one small test to measure Samar’s original research, if any. Frances, who went to Belo for her original research in 2009, writes that one of the innovations in Belo was “food at low prices” markets.  Till 2009, they had been able to establish 34 such markets. How many did Samar find in 2012? If you thought Belo would continue its good work and would have added some more markets, hell no. Samar found the exact same number – 34 !

Incidentally, Frances went to Belo before she wrote her research piece. Samar, by his own admission has been only “following” the story without ever going to Brazil.

Finally, this is how Frances begins her Yes Magazine piece: “Hunger is not caused by a scarcity of food but a scarcity of democracy”.

This is how Samar credits Frances in the middle of his article : ‘”Hunger is not caused by a scarcity of food but a scarcity of democracy,” writes Frances Moore Lappé, author of Diet for a Small Planet (a 1971 bestseller on meat production and global food scarcity). She recently visited Belo and noted how the hunger programme benefited a fourth of the city’s inhabitants and cut the infant death rate by more than half in a decade.”

That is all. Nothing else. Nothing more. No mention of any article Frances wrote or any data she gave and he may have used.  Incidentally, 2009, when Frances visited Belo, is not “recent’ in 2012.  Of course, Yes Magazine, where Frances wrote her Belo experience, is not mentioned at all. Twisting of the knife, did you say?


1. The apparent similarities between these two articles, spaced three years apart, were first brought out by Rakesh Babu G R. He has provided us with the original links. The entire credit for bringing this to light, must go to him. He tweets at @raksopenmind.

I must also thank Sathya Anand (@proudHindu123 ) for fishing out the links again when I started writing this blog post.

2. Samar Halarnkar, from what I understand, is part of an endangered species of “Indian liberals”. He tweets at handle @samar11.

3. Original article by Frances, dated Feb 13, 2009, in full, is here.

4. Full article by Samar, dated April 11, 2012 is here.

5. Hindustan Times, puts a disclaimer below Samar’s article: “The views expressed by the author are personal.” Wonder what is their take on this?

Update by author of this blog post

Since the publication, of this blog, I have read some defense of Samar’s tactics. Below is my response.

This defense by Samar that he used Google to do his research is hogwash. When you only Google, you take data from various sources. However, each and every data about Belo, used by Samar is from ONE article by Frances, penned three years ago, without attribution. That is lifting.

And anyways, what does Samar credit Frances for in his original piece? That she wrote a book in 1971 and she visited Belo. Not a word on her article. Not one? When all that is relevant is her 2009 article, what Samar mentions is her 1971 book. This is what I called twisting of the knife!
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