Pune Patrakar Sangh was founded in 1940 with only a few members. They were mostly journalists known for their literary writing in Marathi. Some of them worked for the freedom for the country, some for social reforms. For the next several years, the organization was nearly dormant. It became active when working journalists such as B R Vats in Delhi, T R Ramaswamy in Chennai and Madharao Sane in Pune were at the forefront of the Indian Federation of Working Journalists. In 1974 Gopalrao Krishna Patwardhan became President of the Pune Patrakar Sangh and was supported by me and Prakash Kardaley. That was a landmark year as the Sangh became Pune Shramik Patrakar Sangh (Pune Union of Working Journalists), a trade union of the employee journalists.
I have been a witness to the evolution of the PUWJ into prominent a city organization that undertook numerous activities covering issues related to professional journalism, trade union matters, cultural, social and educational training was undertaken in increasing number. Patrakar Sahayyata Nidhi, blood donation and several other welfare activities were undertaken. Journalist organisations elsewhere in India may have organised such activities. But the PUWJ did something else that was unique in the country. Here are the details:
The Corona 19 had affected not only the general population but also the journalists in Pune and elsewhere. The members of (PUWJ) experienced the ill-effects of the pandemic. One Journalist, Pandurang Raykar, lost his life. On other days, several reporters and sub-editors were rushed to hospitals in different parts of the city.
Many colleagues lost jobs because the newspaper owners reported that the newspapers had suffered heavily in their businesses, in circulation and advertisement revenue. The Number of pages were reduced, loss-making editions were closed, and several newspaper establishments were closed. Salaries of employees were slashed to around 50 per cent in the case of the newspaper establishments that managed to survive. The white-collared employees- the journalists – were unable to find alternative sources of income. There was gloom in every sector of the economy. The newspaper industry was no exception.
Several members of the PUWJ and their families reported nervous breakdown. Many found it difficult to meet expenses for routine treatments. Several medicines were not available in the market. Some were sold in the black market at exorbitant prices.
Oxygen was scarce. Ambulance services attached to private hospitals were expensive. Nurses and the paramilitary staff of the hospitals were overworked.
In this all pervading gloom and desperation, the PUWJ tried to tackle the situation to help its journalists and their family members.
Worked in unison
PUWJ President Prasad Kulkarni says its office bearers and executive committee members worked in unison to tackle the situation. The goodwill and the credibility of the PUWJ came to the help of the organisation. As challenges cropped up one after another, solutions were found out without any loss of time.
For example, we realised that the experts in different medical fields, such as nervous breakdown, and trauma, were not available to our members and their families at affordable costs. Psychiatrists were required in some cases, he says.
Our journalist colleagues used their contacts with the Indian Medical Association to organise help in this area. Dr Sanjay Patil former president of Indian Medical Association, Pune pooled the experts to form an informal advisory board of specialists. They were available to the needy PUWJ members and their families. They ensured that the confidentiality of the patients was maintained.
Earlier in April, the PUWJ organised a Corona pre-testing. It tested oxygen levels, pulse and symptoms for Covid-19. Around 200 members participated. Only two people showed symptoms.
The next tests were swab tests. Around 200 journalists participated. None of them tested positive. This was a major drive sponsored by PUWJ in collaboration with Pune Municipal Corporation with the initiative by Mayor Muralidhar, Sahyadri Hospital’s Dr Charu Apte and Puneet Balan group.
As a measure to boost the immunity, dosages of Arsenic Album 30 were given to all members and their families. Around 400 members and their families took this medication.
At one point, oxygen supply system for the patients was not easily available in Pune at reasonable costs. When Mr Vikram Salunke of the Accurate Engineering came to know about it, he offered a set of the system. He arranged also to train a couple of tech-savvy journalists to use the system to during emergencies.
The PUWJ members came across instances where medical stores and private hospitals charged exorbitantly for remdesivir injection vials. These vials were considered useful for corona treatment. The PUWJ liaisoned with Mr Anil Belkar, the Secretary of Pune District Chemists Association for supply of vials and other pharmacy products at fair price and without delay.
Mr Vishwesh Kulkarni of Yashashwi Academy for Skills provided website development course at extremely discounted cost. Some of the members, who have lost the job, participated in this course. After successful completion, they have started, their own news websites.
Another major help the Patrakar Sangh began offering was the ambulance service. It was the period when the corona was at a peak. The number of patients in the city and district was rising every day. Beds and Hospitals were limited. There was panic in the city as the newspapers and television channels reported a number of deaths and an increasing number of patients. Ambulances and hearses were limited. They were hired to carry the patients and bodies to a long distance. With the result that the patients were kept waiting. There was heavy pressure on the state government’s 108 service for the ambulances. The 108 operators declined to provide their ambulances to ferry patients to private hospitals on arguing that the 108 was meant for emergencies faced by the government hospitals. This led to more panic, impatience, and bickering among these agencies and the affected people.
This created more panic among the patients and their relatives. Scores of families of journalists experienced such panic. This led to innovation to organise a service of an ambulance for journalists. That was unique, not thought of and successfully executed by any organisation of journalists in India, and perhaps outside the country. In Pune, PUWJ organised the service with the support of the MVR Welfare Foundation. Its Head, Hematologist Dr Vijay Ramanan offered the ambulance belongs to MVR welfare foundation.
Shivsangram Sanghatana’s founder leader Vinayak Mete came forward to provide us an ambulance until the PUWJ members required it during the COVID 19.
The youthful PUWJ office bearers had vowed not to seek and accept charity for any of our activities. Accordingly, they prevailed upon the Sanghatana leaders to accept at least Rs. 101.00 as a token for the payment for ambulance.
The journalists in Pune would remain grateful to the PUWJ team for these facilities and services that can perhaps be quantified. There was something else that can not be quantified. The president, office-bearers and executive members risked their own health to run around to hospitals and doctors to organise these facilities and services to save the lives of members and their family members.
Pune Shramik Patrakar Sangh
Prasad Arun Kulkarni, President
Abhijit Barbhai, Vice President
Sukrut Mokashi, Vice President
Chandrakant Hanchate, General Secretary
Sunil Jagtap, treasurer
Laxman More, secretary
Vijay Mhaske, secretary
Prashant Bidwe, member
Tanishqa Dongare, member
Amol Kavithkar, member
Sandeep Patil, member
aja Gaikwad, member
Sandeep Marathe, member
Kuldeep Jadhav, member
Shrishkumar Randive, member
Vijaykumar Kulkarni, member
Abhijit Bhise, member
Pune Patrakar Pratishthan
Prakash Bhiote, President
Vitthal Jadhav, secretary
Skurut Karandikar, treasurer
Mahendra Badade, trustee
Yogesh Kuthe, trustee
Prof Dr Kiran Thakur
Former PUWJ President
Centre of Communication for Development, Vishwakarma University