Green shoots, parched roots: What the microfinance industry tells us about rural India and the grassroots economy
Once again, an old contradiction is rearing its head.Talk to MFIs — or any of their associations — and they will tell you the sector is on the path to post-Covid recovery.This February, for instance, the association reported some green shoots. While the quantum of loans remaining unserviced for over 180 days inched up marginally… Continue reading
Who Is Buying Jet Airways? What the Spate of Unknown Actors Buying Indian Firms Means
As the first part of this series reported, the bankruptcy resolution of Jet Airways is not going well. Not only has the process seen established players in the aviation sector back out early, with a bunch of unknown entities trying to bag India’s best-run airline instead, it has also yielded an outcome where a businessman… Continue reading
Jet Airways’ Bumpy Flight Path Points to Serious Issues with India’s New Bankruptcy Code
On November 10, 2022, came startling news. As a part of an investigation into suspected fraud and money-laundering, prosecutors in Liechtenstein, Switzerland and Austria had raided multiple properties belonging to Florian Fritsch. The investigation was based, said the Liechtenstein prosecutor, on “several complaints by suspected victims”. The news created ripples in distant India. Fritsch is… Continue reading
Post-Hindenburg, what happens to Adani’s energy plans?
In early February, as the market was absorbing the immediate impact of Hindenburg’s exhaustive report on Adani’s alleged improprieties, cabinet minister RK Singh struck a sanguine note. Speaking at a press conference, Singh, India’s minister for New and Renewable Energy, dismissed concerns that the Adani Group’s current crisis might hurt India’s clean energy plans. “I… Continue reading
A Journalistic History of the Adani Group
What would a brief history of India Inc look like? At the time of independence, India’s private sector was dominated by a clutch of business families. Their reign continued into the license raj years – and then was challenged by newcomers like Dhirubhai Ambani. In the 1990s, the country saw the flowering of a new… Continue reading
With Hindenburg, Adani Faces His Stiffest Challenge Yet
What does the short-seller’s report mean for Adani’s plans to grow through international bonds? I write for The Wire. Continue reading
Where is India investing more, fossil fuels or renewables?
Is India embracing renewables or fossil fuels? On the one hand, there are the commitments India has made to decarbonise its economy in the face of climate change that is already impacting the country grievously. Then there are the planners who are convinced that fossil fuels are imperative to provide the electricity needed for India’s… Continue reading
Five questions India needs to answer about its PLI scheme
India is trying to become a manufacturing powerhouse in a clutch of old and new sectors. Its policy instrument, the production-linked incentive (PLI) scheme, stands on a mix of old and new pillars—high import tariffs to coax companies to stop importing and source in India instead; a focus on creating a few champions in each… Continue reading
What India’s solar and battery PLIs tell us about how the scheme is working
As the first part of this series said, India is trying to become a manufacturing powerhouse in a clutch of old and new sectors. Its timing is propitious. After COVID-19, countries don’t want too much geographical concentration in their supply chains. They seek an alternative to China. In tandem, in a clutch of emerging sectors… Continue reading
Can India win the global energy race with the PLI scheme?
Photovoltaics were first discussed in the country’s third five-year plan (1961-66), a time when the young republic wanted an indigenous solar sector to meet developmental imperatives like rural electrification.That beginning, which could have seen India export solar technologies to the third world, went nowhere. India’s next two five-year plans (1969-78) ignored solar and focused on… Continue reading
Hydel #3. Why states might bear the onus of supporting hydel projects that struggle to compete against batteries, electrolysers, and their ilk
India’s latest hydel push is facing strong headwinds. With a target of 500 GW of renewable power capacity by 2030, the country needs to add as much as 80 GW of energy storage to stabilise the grid, and meet peak power demand. Accordingly, not only is the government pushing technologies like Battery Energy Storage Systems… Continue reading
Hydel #2. The future of these projects sizably depends on how India’s energy storage landscape will evolve
Out today, the second part of our series on India’s new hydel push. Continue reading
Hydel #1. Does hydel have a role in India’s decarbonisation plans?
Once again, India is in the throes of a dam-building enthusiasm. Not only are old, stranded projects being revived, newer ones are being commissioned as well. Just last year, the BJP-led NDA government announced fresh dams in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. In Sikkim, there is speculation that a 520 MW hydel project at Dzongu will… Continue reading
Making sense of India’s energy sector
For a year-and-a-half now, I have been trying to understand the largest processes shaping India’s energy sector. These variously support/weaken the growth of the principal forms of energy India depends on – and, consequently, determine the country’s energy transition. Note: Regular readers of this blog — both of them, that is to say — will… Continue reading
Finance Firm Buying Public Sector Central Electronics Ltd. for Cheap Has Links to BJP Leaders
The divestment saga of Central Electronics (CEL) deserves more attention than it is getting. The broad details are well known enough. The public sector undertaking (PSU), founded in 1974 to commercially exploit technologies developed by national laboratories and indigenous R&D institutions, briefly hit the headlines last November when the Narendra Modi government announced its sale… Continue reading
Will Ambani’s promise be like Tata’s?
A car for ₹1 lakh. That was the promise that Ratan Tata made. One family, one car, ₹1 lakh. 1-1-1. In 2003, when Tata first declared the ambitious project, the excitement triggered was genuine. The cheapest car in India at the time, the Maruti 800, cost twice as much. The announcement set off much speculation… Continue reading
Energy Transition #5. On the large costs of decarbonisation sans a pathway
Talk about the energy transition and coal comes up immediately. A number of researchers across the world are working on ‘just transition’ – to support the economies that run on fossil fuels. In India, ‘just transition’ is usually invoked in the context of coal. As its use falls, coal-producing regions will see revenues fall; sectors… Continue reading
Energy Transition #4. On PM Modi’s dramatic promises at COP 26.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow by storm. Speaking at the summit, not only did he commit India to a net-zero target, he also made a series of aggressive commitments on behalf of the country by 2030. By the end of this decade, he said, India will meet 50%… Continue reading
Energy Transition #3. What Carbon Capture needs to work: Supportive state policies. An interview with Asam Rafi of Carbon Clean
As CarbonCopy has reported, a global race is underway to bring down electrolyser prices. That should help users seeking to ditch carbon fuels for cleaner alternatives. As for firms without cleaner pathways, they can reduce their emissions through carbon capture. Existing technologies for capture, however, are too expensive, and run on too small a scale.… Continue reading
Energy Transition #2. As a consumer of energy
This is a tale of two steel companies. The first is an Indian transnational with an annual steel-making capacity of 34 million tonnes. Climbing aboard the global energy transition, it is upgrading its steel plant in Europe to run on hydrogen. Even back home in India—with a government yet undecided about decarbonisation and far lower social pressure on emissions—it has set… Continue reading
Energy Transition #1. A supplier of energy?
Over the last two months, I have been trying to better understand the looming energy transition — and the prospects it holds for India. You know the backstory. In the run-up to COP26, chatter about Net Zero has peaked. So has talk about decarbonisation. We know the energy transition will reshape the world. Some countries… Continue reading
Book review: Ramrao
About three years ago, Jaideep first told me about Ramrao. The book is finally out. And it was a real pleasure to write this review. Continue reading
Why India should embrace Net Zero
In August last year, Coal India put out an eye-popping statement. Quote-tweeting India’s Union minister for coal, it said: “CIL is poised to become a “Net Zero Energy Maharatna PSU”.” The accompanying video had more details. Coal India would produce 3,000 MW of solar power by 2023-24, it said, enough to cover all of its… Continue reading
India’s solar sector #4. Growth minus market scaffolding
We published the last of our solar stories today.Essentially, all the hype and bombast notwithstanding, solar power sector is struggling. Take a look at the sector and you will see slowing capacity addition, developers cutting costs/restructuring/exiting, and rising M&A activity. This needs to be understood. In part because high solar/renewable targets are a cornerstone of… Continue reading
India’s solar sector #3. The fall and rise of solar costs
Out today, Part Three. On why solar is not just slowing, it is about to see a rise in its costs. Continue reading
India’s solar sector #2. Rooftop solar and DISCOMs
This is the first question. Why did India amp up its rooftop (solar) target without considering its implications for DISCOMs? Out today, the second part of our series on why India’s solar sector is struggling. ps: this report has been cross-posted at The Wire. Continue reading
India’s solar sector #1. Dissonance, chaos and tumult
At first glance, all seems well in India’s solar sector. Its tariffs continue to crash. At the Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI)’s auction last November, Saudi Arabia’s Aljoemaih Energy and Water Co and Green India Wind Energy, one of Sembcorp’s India investments, won after bidding ₹2 per unit. State-run NTPC wasn’t too far behind.… Continue reading
Coal India chooses energy-intensive manufacturing; Adani and NTPC chase vertical integration.
For a long while now, from the time #DespiteTheState went to the presses, I have been chasing a story on coal. You know the score. India’s coal sector is behaving in discontinuous ways — Coalblock auctions find few bidders; Coal India mulls diversification into Aluminium smelting and solar ingot/panel manufacturing; power producers like NTPC and… Continue readingAdani, Coal, Coal India, India, NTPC, Solar, Thermal power
Peering into Coal India’s ambitious pivot
“We do not want to be a coal mining company any longer. We do not even want to be a mining company. We want to be a producer of cheap pithead power.” From his office in New Delhi’s Shastri Bhavan, coal secretary Anil Jain is working on a radically recasting of Coal India, the biggest… Continue reading
Strange times ahead for the coal sector
As CarbonCopy reported in the middle of last year, India’s energy policy is distinctly muddled. By 2030, the ruling NDA government says oil demand will double; and gas demand will treble. It has also told Coal India to boost coal production to one billion tonnes by 2024 – up from 600 million tonnes in 2018-19 – and replace imported… Continue reading
A reading list for reporters
For a while now, I have been thinking about listing the journalism books that taught me the most. And so, with the blessings of a rough typology, here we go. On the moral imperative of journalism: Simple, reporters should belong to the time they live in. In other words, their work should try to create… Continue reading
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
“…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
“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.
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