Journalist Ishan Kukreti on Sunday won the 2023 Covering Climate Now Journalism Awards in the long-form writing category for his article published on Scroll about India’s compensatory afforestation programme.

Kukreti’s story titled, “India’s ghost plantations in which millions of rupees have been sunk”, was published in January last year under Scroll’s Common Ground project.

In a months-long investigation that combined on-ground reporting with data analysis and Right to Information applications, Kukreti found that many plantations that exist on paper were simply missing on the ground.

“This suggests a colossal waste of public funds – the Central government spent around Rs 59,000 crore between 2009 and 2020 on compensatory afforestation,” he wrote. “But it also casts under doubt India’s commitments to international environmental laws, like the United Nations conventions on climate change and land degradation.”

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The jury said that Kukreti demonstrated the risk that many will turn out to be all smoke and mirrors.

“Our judges were wowed by the scale of Kukreti’s investigation – a single journalist effectively conducting government-level oversight – and called this story ‘one that should make policymakers worldwide take notice’.”

Besides Kukreti, international best-selling author Naomi Klein won the award in the commentary category for her articles on Russia’s war in Ukraine and Egypt’s COP27 for The Intercept.

Additionally, Manka Behl of The Times of India, Damian Carrington of The Guardian and investigative journalist Amy Westervelt were named as climate journalists of the year for 2023.

“Every news outlet on earth can learn from the engaged, hard-hitting journalism that Manka, Damian, and Amy bring to the climate story,” said Mark Hertsgaard, executive director of Covering Climate Now. “It’s reporting like this that arms the public with the power that knowledge gives.”