on coal, forests and farmers

Take Chotia, a captive block in Hasdeo Arand with about 35 MT of reserves, allotted to Prakash Industries. Chouhan says 1,500 hectares of forest land is being lost to produce about 1 MT of coal a year. Wouldn’t it have been better to give Prakash a coal linkage? Or take Mahan, the block that will meet the power needs of Essar and Hindalco for about 14 years. Why not give them a bigger block elsewhere instead of taking a wildlife corridor out? Chhattisgarh scrapped the Lemru-proposed elephant reserve in Hasdeo Arand after the Confederation of Indian Industry wrote to it that the country stood to lose 40 MTPA of coal and 4,300 MW of power projects because of it. Of the nine companies allotted blocks here, two have had the CBI slap FIRs on them for misrepresentation; and district officials say no more than two will set up power plants.

and so, two more stories o’ mine on coal are finally out. the first takes a look at the relationship between coal and forests. while working on this set of stories about the coal sector in india, i kept hearing from assorted bureaucrats and cos and sectoral experts about how the country needs to decide whether it wants electricity or tigers. and about how india must learn to strike a balance between environment and development.

the subtext here was that the ‘no-go’ policy of not allowing mining in some forests should be scrapped.

it makes one wonder, this insistence. have we really reached a point where there is no option but to start taking out the tattered remnants of the once great central indian forests? more puzzzlingly, why was there such hostility to the ‘no-go’ plan even though the environment ministry had allowed mining in over half the reserve forests lying atop coal blocks — the ‘go’ areas?

the story out two days ago looks for answers to those questions. take a look?

an accompany story looks at how villagers close to coal blocks have been impacted by how land gets acquired.

Why does industrial expansion result in such poor outcomes for local communities? The answer partly lies in how companies acquire land, the process of which is explained by the head of a Raipur-based sponge-iron company. Since a company usually does not have local contacts in the project area, it turns to local land brokers. They go to influential people like the sarpanch, large farmers or the patwari and ask them to buy land. A big farmer with, say, 20 acres of land is promised Rs 5 crore if he can get the company 50 acres of land. This big farmer knows which villagers are in distress, and starts buying their land. The spike in land deals — typically, 50-100 acres — alerts villagers a company might be coming in. Land rates rise, and the broker starts buying from any farmer willing to sell. When 50 acres or so are left, the government is asked to acquire the rest.

with this, i am pretty much done with all the coal stories. think i will put up a larger, composite email on coal-gate, aggregating all the stories we did, up on the blog next.

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I am an Indian journalist with interests in energy, environment, climate and India’s ongoing slide into right-wing authoritarianism. My book, Despite the State, an examination of pervasive state failure and democratic decay in India, was published by Westland Publications, India, in January 2021. My work has won the Bala Kailasam Memorial Award; the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Award; and five Shriram Awards for Excellence in Financial Journalism. Write to me at despitethestate@protonmail.com.


…une plongée dans les failles béantes de la démocratie indienne, un compte rendu implacable du dysfonctionnement des Etats fédérés, minés par la corruption, le clientélisme, le culte de la personnalité des élus et le capitalisme de connivence. (…a dive into the gaping holes in Indian democracy, a relentless account of the dysfunction of the federated states, undermined by corruption, clientelism, the cult of the personality of elected officials and crony capitalism).” Le Monde

…a critical enquiry into why representative government in India is flagging.Biblio

…strives for an understanding of the factors that enable governments and political parties to function in a way that is seemingly hostile to the interests of the very public they have been elected to serve, a gross anomaly in an electoral democracy.” Scroll.in

M. Rajshekhar’s deeply researched book… holds a mirror to Indian democracy, and finds several cracks.The Hindu

…excels at connecting the local to the national.Open

…refreshingly new writing on the play between India’s dysfunctional democracy and its development challenges…Seminar

A patient mapping and thorough analysis of the Indian system’s horrific flaws…” Business Standard (Image here)

33 മാസം, 6 സംസ്ഥാനങ്ങൾ, 120 റിപ്പോർട്ടുകൾ: ജനാധിപത്യം തേടി മഹത്തായ ഇന്ത്യൻ യാത്ര… (33 months, 6 states, 120 reports: Great Indian journey in search of democracy…)” Malayala Manorama

Hindustan ki maujooda siyasi wa maaashi soorat e hal.” QindeelOnline

What emerges is the image of a state that is extractive, dominant, casteist and clientelist.Tribune

…reporting at its best. The picture that emerges is of a democracy that has been hijacked by vested interests, interested only in power and pelf.Moneycontrol.com

Book lists

Ten best non-fiction books of the year“, The Hindu.

Twenty-One Notable Books From 2021“, The Wire.

What has South Asia been reading: 2021 edition“, Himal Southasian


Journalism is a social enterprise…,” Booksfirst.in.

Democratic decay at state level: Journalist M Rajshekhar on book ‘Despite the State’,” The News Minute.

Covid-19 en Inde : “des décès de masse” dont un “État obscurantiste est responsable,” Asialyst.


JP to BJP: The Unanswered Questions“.
Mahtab Alam’s review of “JP to BJP: Bihar After Lalu and Nitish”.

Urban History of Atmospheric Modernity in Colonial India“. Mohammad Sajjad’s review of “Dust and Smoke: Air Pollution and Colonial Urbanism, India, c1860-c1940”.

Westland closure: Titles that are selling fast and a few personal recommendations,” by Chetana Divya Vasudev, Moneycontrol. (Because this happened too. In February, a year after DtS was released, Amazon decided to shutter Westland, which published the book. The announcement saw folks rushing to buy copies of Westland books before stocks run out.)

Time to change tack on counterinsurgency” by TK Arun, The Federal.

All Things Policy: The Challenges of Governing States” by Suman Joshi and Sarthak Pradhan, Takshashila Institute (podcast).

The Future of Entertainment“, Kaveree Bamzai in Open.

On What India’s Watching“, Prathyush Parasuraman on Substack.

The puppeteers around us“, Karthik Venkatesh in Deccan Herald.

Will TN election manifestos continue ‘populist’ welfare schemes?“, Anna Isaac for The News Minute.

Why wages-for-housework won’t help women“, V Geetha in Indian Express.

The poor state of the Indian state“, Arun Maira in The Hindu.

Book discussions

26 December, 2021: Rangashankara, Bangalore, a discussion with Dhanya Rajendran.

16 November: Rachna Books, Gangtok, a discussion with Pema Wangchuk.

29 August: Books In The Time of Chaos, with Ujwal Kumar.

21 May: Hyderabad Lit Fest with Kaveree Bamzai and Aniruddha Bahal.

28 March: Paalam Books, Salem, Tamil Nadu.

19 March: The News Minute, “Citizens, the State, and the idea of India

6 March: Pen@Prithvi, with Suhit Kelkar

20 February: A discussion between scholars Usha Ramanathan, Tridip Suhrud, MS Sriram and me to formally launch Despite the State.

6 February: DogEars Bookshop, Margoa.

5 February: The Polis Project, Dispatches with Suchitra Vijayan.

30 January: Founding Fuel, “Systems Thinking, State Capacity and Grassroots Development“.

25 January: Miranda House Literary Society