What we talk about when we talk about Bihar
A wrap of all our #EarToTheGround reportage from Bihar is finally out. The arsenic crisis is not the only problem area where the state’s response has been weak and underwhelming. Bihar has improved on law and order, roads and power, but as the previous stories in Scroll.in’s Ear To The Ground series have reported, its… Continue reading
As Gujarat’s Vadnagar station gets a makeover, a local resident asks: ‘How many jobs will it create?
Gujarat’s Vadnagar station is getting the mother of all makeovers. Its solitary rail track – a 57-km long metre-gauge line connecting the town of Mehsana to the Jain temple at Taranga – has been ripped out. It is being replaced by a broad-gauge line and extended till Abu Road in the neighbouring state of Rajasthan.… Continue reading
Caste Calculus: How the BJP is expanding its footprint in Bihar
In a hamlet between Badlapura and Chirandgaon villages near Chhapra, Bihar, a small temple is packed with about 40 women. Unmindful of the summer afternoon heat, they are absorbed in worshipping the Hindu god Shiva. It is a Shiv Charcha, Ajay Pandey, the priest of a nearby temple, explained. The women live in five villages… Continue reading
Fear and loathing in Chhapra: How a peaceful Bihar town became a communal tinderbox
Over the past four years, religious tension has steadily increased in Chhapra, Bihar. For evidence, see how this once peaceful town in Saran district now celebrates Ram Navmi or Maha Shivaratri: the high point of the festivities is large processions of young men wearing saffron headbands brandishing swords and shouting “Jai Shri Ram” to a… Continue reading
Beyond Surat’s GST strike: New technologies, Chinese imports are causing a churn in textile sector
At one time, the neighbourhood around Surat’s textile markets was noisy. The street resounded with the clacketing of powerlooms – five or six machines in dark, poorly ventilated rooms with split levels. Most of these were family-run businesses. The looms were on the groundfloor with families working by day and sleeping upstairs at night. Now,… Continue reading
In Surat’s textile hub, small businesses are afraid of GST – but big companies are not
Rajesh Mehra is desolate. A big-boned man in his mid-fifties, he is a trader in women’s blouses. Until ten years ago, Mehra used to take orders from garment wholesalers in big cities like Mumbai, Kolkata and Bengaluru, buy the cloth and thread he needed from garment clusters like Silvassa, and get the blouses stitched in… Continue reading
What’s common between coaching classes in Bihar and its bahubali leaders?
Career Plan Coaching Centre is not much to look at. It is a tiny room, tightly packed with benches and desks, housed in an unplastered brick structure, one half of which is a garage. A board advertises the services offered by the centre, located in Geetwas, a small village near Araria in northeastern Bihar: tuitions… Continue reading
Bihar’s Nitish Kumar has been in power for 12 years. Why has he failed to change its fortunes?
Kanwar jheel is a freshwater lake spread over 6,311 hectares in Bihar’s Begusarai district. Till the 1970s, the lake used to attract as many as 100,000 freshwater birds each year. But, in recent decades, it has been under attack. Landowners from the Bhumihar caste have been draining Kanwar jheel to farm on its lakebed. This… Continue reading
Bihar is struggling to improve the lives of the poor even after 27 years of backward caste rule
The district hospital of Muzaffarpur, 100 km north of Patna, Bihar’s capital, is struggling with a shortage of doctors. With 160 beds and an estimated inflow of 500-600 new patients each day, the hospital should have 48 full-time doctors and 52 nurses, said one of its administrators. What it has, instead, is 12 full-time doctors,… Continue reading
How technology is changing popular culture in Bihar
Sudhanshu is hard at work in his shop on Patna’s busy Boring Road. The small strip of a shop has two desktop computers, both loaded with music and movies downloaded from the internet. The songs and films are Sudhanshu’s livelihood. Boring Road, with its government college and several dozen coaching centres, is a beehive of… Continue reading
What Bihar’s changing village bazaars say about the state
Village markets are changing in Bihar — as they are in the other states #ETTG reported from. This piece looks at some of those changes — and advances hypotheses to explain these changes. Continue reading
Bihar can’t even count how many dengue cases it has had, let alone fight the disease
In Bhagalpur, the historic Bihar city on the southern banks of the river Ganga, doctors disagree about the threat of dengue in the area. Vijay Kumar, the civil surgeon for Bhagalpur, says dengue is under control. His statement has been flatly contradicted by doctors at Bhagalpur’s Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College and Hospital. The hospital identified… Continue reading
Lessons from Bihar’s 2016 dengue outbreak : Migration, poverty, garbage are spreading new diseases
In 2016, dengue hammered Krah. As many as 100 people living in this densely-packed, predominantly Muslim ghetto of about 1,000 families near Biharsharif contracted the disease, say residents. The scale of the outbreak was unprecedented. As Mohammad Ilyas, a young tailor who works and lives in Krah, said: “We never had such an outbreak earlier.”… Continue reading
Cancer has exploded in Bihar as lakhs of people drink water poisoned with arsenic
It is a day like any other at Mahavir Cancer Sansthan. The driveway is lined with people who have travelled a long way to get to this charitable hospital in Patna. Families sit huddled, holding their bags close. The lobby is even more crowded, rather like the ticket buying hall of a train station. The… Continue reading
And now for something completely different
This year’s EOTY (end of the year) bike ride started at Guwahati, Assam, and ended at Miao, Arunachal Pradesh. The route (Guwahati, Mangaldoi, Dekhiajuli, Pabhoi, Majuli, Sibasagar, the coaltown of Margarita, Miao, followed by a visit to Namdapha Tiger Reserve) stretched along the north bank of the Brahmaputra till the river island of Majuli and… Continue reading
‘Is the pain worth it?’: 50 days after demonetisation, rural South India has a few questions
On November 9, life suddenly came to a standstill in Chikka Tirupathi, Bagalur and Hosur. As in the rest of India, the first day of demonetisation in these towns abutting the Karnataka-Tamil Nadu border was marked by problems in conducting day-to-day trading for small businesses and a frenzied hunt for Rs 100 notes for families.… Continue reading
Aadhaar shows India’s governance is susceptible to poorly tested ideas pushed by powerful people
This series has flagged a puzzling trend. State governments are struggling to use Aadhaar-based fingerprint authentication in ration shops. At the same time, a rising number of companies are integrating Aadhaar into their databases. This is puzzling because from its inception, Aadhaar, India’s Unique Identification project, was pitched as integral to the modernisation of social… Continue reading
An update from Patna’s Maroofganj mandi
ten days into #notebandi, patna’s Maroofganj mandi had frozen. As demonetisation enters its second week, traders in Patna’s Maroofganj mandi are seeing something unprecedented. In the last seven days, the supply of new stocks in this wholesale market, which supplies cooking oil, spices, rice, wheat and pulses to shopkeepers across Patna, has plummeted. The supply… Continue reading
What happens to privacy when companies have your Aadhaar number?
Out today, the second part of my story on companies, aadhaar and privacy. As the previous story in this series reported, some companies are using Aadhaar to share customer and business partner information. This could aid the rise of data-broking companies like Acziom in the United States that hold ever more detailed profiles of people.… Continue reading
How private companies are using Aadhaar to try to deliver better services (but there’s a catch)
Aadhaar, as India’s Unique Identity Project is called, aims to give a 12-digit unique identity number to all residents by collecting their fingerprint and iris scans. As of September, its database, maintained by the Unique Identity Authority of India, held the names, addresses and biometric information of more than 105 crore people. The project was… Continue reading
The lid on illegal sand mining in TN might finally be lifted (but perhaps for the wrong reasons)
In a day of fast-paced developments, Income-Tax Department officials raided the house of Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary P Rama Mohana Rao on Wednesday morning where they seized Rs 30 lakh in cash in new, post-demonetisation currency notes, according to the Hindu. Later in the day, Central Bureau of Investigation sleuths also arrested Shekar Reddy, one… Continue reading
What we talk about when we talk about Tamil Nadu
It is out. Scroll’s wrap of all our #EarToTheGround reporting from Tamil Nadu. How is Tamil Nadu doing? Ask a layperson this question and, chances are, they will have good things to say. It does have a reputation for being one of the country’s better governed states. A welfarist state where, in marked contrast to… Continue reading
Ground report: In Bihar, murmurs of protest break the sullen silence against demonetisation
Banka was the last stop before returning to Patna in this reporter’s travels from North Bihar to South Bihar, to get a sense of how notebandi was impacting the structures of everyday life. The journey had started with Raxaul, on the India-Nepal border, on November 18, exactly 10 days after notebandi was announced. Heading south,… Continue reading
Think Tamil Nadu has good public healthcare? It’s hard to find it on the ground
the concluding part of our story on why Tamil Nadu’s healthcare system is weakening. In India’s development circles, Tamil Nadu is viewed as one of the best performing states in the delivery of public welfare like education and healthcare. But, as the first part of this story reported, the state is improving on some public… Continue reading
Tamil Nadu’s healthcare numbers look good – but its people aren’t getting healthier
Out today, the first part of our final #ETTG story from Tamil Nadu. This one says the state’s much-vaunted healthcare system is weakening. On some fronts, the state’s public health system continues to work well. Today, nearly all babies in Tamil Nadu are delivered in clinics – from 87% in 2002-’04, institutional deliveries climbed to… Continue reading
Money is trickling into the banks of Bihar – but is not being distributed evenly
A month after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the scrapping of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes on November 8, cash availability is starkly uneven across Bihar. In relatively affluent parts of the capital city of Patna, the long queues outside ATMs seen in the first week of notebandi, when the government invalidated 86% of… Continue reading
Demonetisation: In a hamlet in Bihar, income and expenditure is down, but hopes are up
The last 30 days have not been easy for the people of Bhindu Paimar. The standard demonetisation narrative has played out in this tola (hamlet) in Karjara panchayat in Gaya, Bihar, about 20 km from Gaya city, on the road that leads to the ancient Buddhist university of Nalanda. Earnings have fallen. Most people in… Continue reading
Paneerselvam has a major task: To reverse Tamil Nadu’s slipping development standards
O Panneerselvam has a tough task ahead of him. Contrary to popular perception, which credits Tamil Nadu with high scores on development indices and a smoothly functioning administration, the state has lost ground over the last ten or so years. Take education. Between 2010 and now, the number of students passing the state board exams… Continue reading
The demonetisation effect on border town Raxaul: Income loss, dependence on Nepalese currency
My second field trip in Bihar took me from Patna to Raxaul in the far north. A couple of days there, and then I began trickling southwards. Bettiah. Gopalganj and then Darbhanga. And then Patna again. I will head further south tomorrow — towards Gaya — before turning northeast towards Nalanda and then straight east… Continue reading
Cauliflower sells for Rs one a kilo in Bihar as demonetisation depresses demand
At first glance, it looks like any other day at the mandi in Bettiah. Trucks stand next to the concrete arch that leads into the fruit and vegetable market in this small town in northern Bihar. Inside the mandi samiti, as the precinct is called, hawkers sit with baskets bursting with vegetables. The shops seem… Continue reading
Tamil Nadu tried to reform its schools – but made them much worse
the concluding part of our story on TN’s school education system. A former official in the state examinations department traced the disarray to a handful of factors – among them the decision to do away with exams, the obduracy of matriculation schools, and rising pressure on the education department to show good results. Continue reading
Tamil Nadu’s schools are in crisis (but nobody is talking about it)
How good are Tamil Nadu’s schools? If you take a look at the exam results in the state, you would get the impression that they are in sound shape. Between 2010 and 2016, the percentage of students passing the state’s tenth standard board exams rose from mid-eighties to mid-nineties. So did the scores and the… Continue reading
How four families have survived two weeks of demonetisation
reported for this story. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to do away with Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes has not been good for Guddu Sharma’s family. Sharma, 24, lives with his wife and two sons near Patna’s Boring Road, and runs a men’s salon about 30 minutes away. Since the prime minister’s announcement, he… Continue reading
Demonetisation has left India’s food markets frozen – and the future looks tense
As demonetisation enters its second week, traders in Patna’s Maroofganj mandi are seeing something unprecedented. In the last seven days, the supply of new stocks in this wholesale market, which supplies cooking oil, spices, rice, wheat and pulses to shopkeepers across Patna, has plummeted. The supply of cooking oil, for instance, is down by 80%.… Continue reading
‘All these notes suddenly have no value:’
this field report on Day One of demonetisation. In the borderlands of Chikka Tirupathi and Hosur, the first day of the demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes by the Indian government was marked by problems in day-to-day trading for small businesses and a frenzied hunt for Rs 100 notes for families. Shankar, who… Continue reading
Reading Zygmunt Bauman
during these months spent on #eartotheground, one of the largest social processes my colleagues and i have written about is this rising intensification of caste and religious identities.we saw that in punjab. and we saw that in tamil nadu. our story at tamil nadu advanced an hypothesis that stagnant economic fortunes of the intermediate castes… Continue reading
As MNREGA work dries up, even the elderly in Bihar are migrating to brick-kilns
In a year when large swathes of rural India reeled under drought, the Centre used WhatsApp messages to ask states to go slow on generating employment under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. This startling revelation emerged in the public domain in the last week of October through the reports of the Business… Continue reading
And now for something completely different
Some photos from my first field trip in Bihar. Patna-Muzaffarpur-Araria-Bhagalpur-Patna. A tea seller on the banks of the Kosi. A village market. A villager who, seeking sustenance, set up an x ray clinic in his village. Field trip number two. Patna-Raxaul-Bettiah-Gopalganj-Darbhanga-Patna. A smoggy sunrise in Gopalganj. Hazarimal’s Dharamshala in Bettiah (This is where Gandhi had… Continue reading
Surviving on jugaad with help from Sai Baba 400 km from home
The camp looked intriguing. About a dozen tents – no more than plastic sheets covered by old sarees – standing in the midst of a strange amalgam of jury-rigged vehicles one day in March. One of the vehicles was still recognisable as a cycle rickshaw, despite its reinforced axle, thickened frame and motorcycle wheels. The… Continue reading
‘No ideology, no political idea’: Hosur shows what happens when a society has been sedated
In the last 40 years, Hosur has been on a rollercoaster. In 1973, this Tamil Nadu town on the border with Karnataka was chosen as the site for the state’s second industrial cluster. Through the ’70s, a diverse clutch of companies, producing everything from trucks to garments to medicines, set up factories here. Hosur began… Continue reading
These companies are changing the way labour is hired (and fired) in India
Heard of a company called UDS? Like India’s IT companies, it hires workers and sends them to client locations. There’s just one difference: while the IT companies supply white-collar workers to firms across the world, UDS provides blue-collar workers to offices, factories, airports in India. They run assembly lines, do housekeeping, handle packing and loading,… Continue reading
Why Tamil Nadu is erecting cages around statues (hint: it’s linked to caste)
Two statues stood on a road between Pondicherry and Villupuram. On the right was CN Annadurai, the first Dravidian chief minister of Tamil Nadu. On the left, Bhimrao Ambedkar. Together, they made an arresting tableau. Annadurai’s statue stood on an open cement plinth, with a red and black flag of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam jammed… Continue reading
Sand mining in Tamil Nadu is incredibly destructive – but it’s also unstoppable
For the longest time, V Chandrasekhar fought a lonely battle. When sand miners first came to his village near Pondicherry in the 1980s, most of his fellow villagers stayed quiet. They stayed quiet when the local riverbed went down by 30 feet, local groundwater levels collapsed, wells dried out and then filled up with saline… Continue reading
Think sand mining damages the ecology? It ruins politics as well
…Villages talk about collapsed groundwater levels, wells that do not fill even when the river is brimming, wells in coastal areas which have turned saline. Little here is surprising. These ecological changes are well-known side-effects of sand mining. But the damage done by sand mining isn’t just ecological. As Scroll found while reporting from Tamil… Continue reading
Politicians aren’t only messing with Tamil Nadu’s water – they’re making Rs 20,000 crore from sand
Out today, the first instalment of our three-part series on sand mining in tamil nadu. Stepping onto the bank, the first thing that’s visible is a ten-wheeled tipper. It grinds to a halt at the end of a queue of similar trucks. Beyond it stretches a vast riverbed. That is the Thenpennaiyar, one of the… Continue reading
How Karnataka and Tamil Nadu mismanaged their water and then blamed each other
Why is the Cauvery such a recurring flashpoint between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu? In recent days, an array of hypotheses have been advanced to help answer that question. Some of these are broad in their scope – tracing the long history of the conflict. Others focus on the here and now – rainfall patterns and… Continue reading
Why does the IAS Association defend HC Gupta but not Ashok Khemka?
Our second piece on this ghastly caterwauling over ex-coal secy HC Gupta. The fervent defence of former Coal Secretary HC Gupta seems to be taking India into dangerous waters. India’s Prevention Of Corruption Act, 1988 should be amended, wrote Partha Sen Sharma, a serving Indian Administrative Service officer in The Times Of India on Tuesday,… Continue reading
Can the courts save India’s rivers from pollution? Tirupur shows the answer is no
the second — and concluding — part of our trip down the Noyyal (see previous post). A slum sprawled on one side of the river. In the distance, a factory belched smoke in the air. The riverbed was overrun with weeds and crammed with plastic bags that were half buried into the earth. An earthmover… Continue reading
How a river in Tamil Nadu turned into a sewage canal
A narrow little rivulet splashes down, bouncing from boulder to boulder as it descends the rockface. It pauses to catch its breath in a tiny pool limned by trees, before rushing downhill again, merging with other streams to form a small river called the Noyyal. For centuries, the river’s 170-km course used to take it… Continue reading
What the people defending former coal secretary HC Gupta are not telling you
Last week, former Coal Secretary HC Gupta surprised everyone in the Central Bureau of Investigation Court. He intended to “face trial from inside the jail” and withdraw the personal bond he had submitted in order to obtain bail, he told Special Judge Bharat Parashar. Gupta is an accused in several coal block allocation cases relating… Continue reading
A tsunami of debt is building up in Tamil Nadu – and no one knows where it is headed
G Venkatasubramanian trots out some astonishing numbers. Over the last 15 years, he and his fellow researchers at Pondicherry’s French Institute have been studying debt bondage among families in 20 villages in Tamil Nadu. Half of these settlements are in the coastal district of Cuddalore, and the others are in the adjoining district of Villupuram.… Continue reading
the kabuki of environmental governance
in which i write about the environment ministry’s decision to do away with the Rs 200 crore fine on the adani group’s port and sez complex at mundra. this is a process of forgetting, i say. do read. Continue reading
Why Tamil Nadu’s fisherfolk can no longer find fish
“What did you catch?” Alagairi Madhivanan shouts across to the fisherman in a small boat to our left. The young man stops scanning the net he has just pulled out of the lagoon, turns towards us and says, “Five fishes.” His answer echoes what Madhivanan has been telling me over the past hour as his… Continue reading
The controversy over ‘Udta Punjab’ shows how the state government has completely lost the plot
Hope has finally arrived. At a time when the Centre and the State governments in India are proving entirely unequal to the responsibilities placed before them, Punjab has decided to step up and show the way. Late last week, the state government – run by the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Bharatiya Janata Party –… Continue reading
For ‘Make In India’ to work, India first needs to become globally competitive
Bhoday Sales Corporation is tucked inside the industrial zone of Ludhiana. A small machine tooling factory with a net worth of not more than Rs 10 lakh, it makes manufacturing equipment for other plants in the city. Of late, it has fallen on bad times. Sales are down. At one time, says its founder, 68-… Continue reading
No country for the poor: What we have learnt so far from Scroll’s EarToTheGround project
As Scroll’s Ear To The Ground series reaches its halfway point, what have we learnt so far? The series, for those coming in late, seeks to create a current snapshot of India through reportage from six specially chosen states – one from the North East; one which is mineral-rich; one with Green Revolution agriculture; another… Continue reading
NASA scientist on how Earth is tipping (and spinning slowly) because of climate change
Think about how climate change affects earth and some obvious answers come to mind: Rainfall patterns will change, sea temperatures will rise, more corals will bleach, planetary wind systems will change, the number of extreme weather events will rise… But a paper published last month in scientific journal ScienceAdvances, added another change to what we… Continue reading
Why puzzling questions about #PanamaPapers can only be answered by a forensic audit
The Panama Papers exposé by the Indian Express throws up some puzzling questions — like who (covertly) owned some of these companies? a quick and dirty story. Continue reading
What we talk about when we talk about Punjab
Between October and January, Scroll.in’s Ear To The Ground project reported from Punjab. The idea, as in Mizoram and Odisha, was to create a snapshot of the state. How are its people doing? What are the largest processes shaping the state? When Scroll.in moved to Punjab, it was late October. The state was simmering. Farmers… Continue reading
Questions the CBI should answer before closing its probe in the Jindal coal block case
Even under the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance, the Central Bureau of Investigation’s inquiries into the captive coalblock allocation scam continue to be half-hearted. In the latest instance, as the Indian Express reported on April 2, India’s apex investigating agency has closed its probe into how former Congress Member of Parliament Naveen Jindal’s Jindal… Continue reading
Explainer: Why #PanamaPapers is just the tip of the iceberg
The leak of information from the database of Mossack Fonseca, the giant law firm headquartered in Panama, is a reality check. Not because the information, which went public in India late Sunday night, exposes over 214,000 offshore companies typically used as structures to evade taxation connected to people in over 200 countries. Or because its… Continue reading
Why the Kolkata flyover collapse is a warning for India’s infrastructure industry
out today, this story on why kolkata’s vivekananda flyover collapsed. Continue reading
Why is Punjab increasingly turning to new gurus for comfort?
In the last 15 years, novelist and writer Desraj Kali has seen Punjab undergo some striking changes. But none is as striking as its gradual religious revolution. A growing number of people in the predominantly Sikh state, he says, are now visiting Hindu temples. Not those of principal deities like Vishnu, Shiva and Rama, but… Continue reading
How the Badals spread their control over Punjab (and why it is eroding)
Following up on yesterday’s story, part 3 of our series on Punjab under the Akali Dal. In Punjab, the domination of the government machinery by the Badal clan is near complete. It starts right from the top, the cabinet of ministers, and trickles down to the ground, to the level of the police station. Here… Continue reading
Every business in Punjab leads back to an Akali Dal leader (well almost)
out today, our sequel to the previous story on why healthcare is underfunded in punjab. Industry is fleeing Punjab – an investigation by Scroll.in found a growing number of companies have shut down or are planning to set up newer units outside the state. Among the reasons cited by businessmen for the exodus were the… Continue reading
why we need to talk about the companies building authentication apps off the aadhaar database
Monika Chowdhry, who heads the marketing division of Swabhimaan Distribution Services, the company that created TrustID, defended the app, saying it offers the valuable service of verifying people’s identities. “In our day to day life, we do a lot of transactions with people – like maids or plumbers. Till now, you would have to trust… Continue reading
How do so many industrialists get into the Rajya Sabha?
Vijay Mallya’s flight to England has opened up a veritable can of worms. Every day there are little-known strands coming to light about his business and personal life, from the giant loan defaults to the marquee properties. What is not being discussed as much is his political life and the conflict of interest. The chairman… Continue reading
Has Punjab’s obsession with cancer robbed its poor of healthcare?
“Private waley kehte hain ghar le ja kar sewa karo.” Private hospitals tell us to tend to the patient at home if we cannot pay their fee. That was Mohan Lal Shonky’s response when asked how he and others in the poor quarter of Nurmahal town in Punjab’s Jalandhar district use medical services. Shonky, 55… Continue reading
Why hydel-power companies in Arunachal Pradesh want NHPC to take over their projects (and why it won’t)
In a delicious twist of fate, a cluster of private companies that rushed headlong into Arunachal in the late 2000s to build hydel power projects are now, in a turnaround, asking the public sector National Hydel Power Corporation to take over their projects. The fascinating afterlife of Arunachal Pradesh’s hydel scam. Continue reading
Why Punjab’s power bills include a cow cess and water charges
late last year, during my early days in punjab, i was nonplussed to find the state is charging a cow cess on electricity. and then, i found the state also charges octroi on power. which nonplussed me some more. and then, i learnt the state is going to start porting its water and sewerage charges… Continue reading
Iran’s blogfather: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are killing the web
most of the time, this blog is just an online dumping ground for my articles. this article in the guardian has me breaking that pattern. Even before I went to jail, though, the power of hyperlinks was being curbed. Its biggest enemy was a philosophy that combined two of the most dominant, and most overrated,… Continue reading
No city is an island: Lessons from Delhi’s odd-even experiment
The Delhi government’s 15-day odd-even initiative to contain vehicular emissions has made little or no difference to air quality in the capital, The Hindu reported last week. The report claims that peak pollution levels during the first week of the scheme – which moved cars with odd licence plates off the streets on alternate days… Continue reading
RIP Priya Thangarajah
my friend priya passed away last november. since then, the brain has circled back to her repeatedly. in fond, sad remembrance. For more on her, two links (one and two) and this old image. Continue reading
on the pathankot attacks
wrote this quick and dirty piece after a day trip from jalandhar to pathankot. Continue reading
and now for something completely different
For a few years now, I have sneaked off every December for a relatively long bike ride. The brain gathers all manner of stresses and tensions as each year vends along, and it has seemed like a good idea to leave email, twitter and other horsemen of the ‘constant connectedness’ apocalypse behind and hare off… Continue reading
why industry is leaving punjab
In his 50 years in Ludhiana, Harbans Singh Bhanwer has seen it all. Around 1965, when he began making machine parts in Punjab’s biggest industrial centre, the town was booming. The Green Revolution was underway, and Ludhiana provided a large part of the engineering underpinning for that boom. Some units made farm implements, while others… Continue reading
How climate change has sparked political and social unrest in Punjab this year
my first article on punjab is out. it looks at the recent whitefly attack on the state’s cotton crop and traces it back to worrying behaviour by the mid latitude westerlies and the collapse of extension work in the state. Continue reading
Why farmers burn their fields in Punjab despite knowing that it worsens the fog over north India
On the evening of 7 November, a deep fog settled along the stretch of 250 kilometres between Sirsa and Gurgaon in Haryana. By ten in the night, it was thick enough to make travel almost impossible. In places, visibility shrank to not more than five metres.State transport buses cut their trips short. Cars, trucks and… Continue reading
Why Odisha sees little protest despite the state’s poor public services
Stay in Odisha for a bit and you will run into a puzzle. Despite healthy finances, the state is failing to provide basic services to its people. Its schools and hospitals are badly understaffed. Jobs are not easy to find, as a result of which young people are getting disillusioned with education itself. Welfare programmes like the National Rural Employment Guarantee… Continue reading
Part 3: How Odisha squandered valuable mineral resources without any gains for its people
In Unchabali village in Odisha’s Keonjhar district, a massive house is under construction atop the ridge that looms over the village. It belongs to the local MLA, Sanatan Mahakud. Given his zealous security guards, you cannot give the sprawling complex the close attention it deserves, but as you drive by, you see a temple coming… Continue reading
Part 2. Meet the Odisha MLA whose assets grew by 1,700% in five years
Travel around the district of Keonjhar and you hear stories of the MLA who distributes money among his constituents every month. Elected as an independent candidate in 2014 from Champua constituency in the heart of Odisha’s richest iron ore-rich belt, Sanatan Mahakud distributes anywhere between Rs 1,000 to Rs 2,000 to more than half the… Continue reading
Part 1: How a contractor from Tamil Nadu carved out an enormous mining empire in Odisha
the first part of our trilogy on illegal iron ore mining in Odisha, a boom in which only a few benefitted. this story looks at the rise of b prabhakaran and his thriveni earthmovers. Continue reading
These workers at Amritsar’s grain market are smiling only for the camera
The anaj mandi at Amritsar will not forget 2015 easily. For the first time, the state’s long-grained basmati rice, famous for its fragrance, is selling cheaper than the humble parimal variety procured by the Indian government for its public distribution programme. Just two years ago, the variety favoured by local farmers, labelled ‘1121’, fetched about… Continue reading
and, sigh, one more lal thanzara story
In a decision which underscores the impunity India’s political leaders enjoy, the Congress party’s Mizoram unit has chosen tainted state minister Lal Thanzara as its candidate for the bypoll in Aizawl North constituency on November 21. and, then, an excellent development. Pu Vanlalvena, the Mizo National Front Youth leader who took on Pu Lal Thanzara… Continue reading
Samajwadi Party leader shot, injured in Mainpuri
20 days after false allegations of cow slaughter almost saw two muslims get lynched, the town of karhal in uttar pradesh’s manipuri district is on the boil again. this time because 3 goons shot and wounded a local muslim leader. Continue reading
Is a monopoly taking shape in India’s port sector?
The mood in the Odisha port town of Paradip is turning grey. Ever since the Adani group bought the neighbouring port of Dhamra last May, people and companies dependent on the port are worried Paradip is being weakened to favour Dhamra. “I handle 70% of the cargo at Paradip. I have 1,000 employees,” said a… Continue reading
What a primary school in Keonjhar tells us about Odisha’s misplaced government spending
Pradip Kumar Behera is trying to beat the odds. A bespectacled man in his late thirties, he is the headmaster of the government school in Unchabali, a village in Odisha’s mineral-rich district of Keonjhar. Under his watch are 144 students, mostly from the poorer families in the village, studying in classes from the first grade… Continue reading
why odisha’s empty engineering colleges hurt students and not their owners
As colleges go, Krutika Institute of Technical Education is certainly educative. Located on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar, this private engineering college works out of a half-built red and cream building with iron rebars bristling from its top. The lobby stands unfinished with its girders exposed. Similarly unfinished, the water fountain in front is no more… Continue reading
how to engineer a riot and influence people
Last Thursday, a mob nearly killed two Muslims in Uttar Pradesh’s Karhal town. The two men, 55-year-old Mohammad Shafiq and 27-year-old Mohammad Kalam, were skinning a cow when they were accused of slaughtering the animal. Very rapidly, a mob of 1,000-1,500 people, according to police estimates, converged on the spot, a stretch of open land… Continue reading
Meat unit equity: Company filings show why BJP’s Sangeet Som should quit politics (like he promised)
On Friday, the Hindustan Times reported that Sangeet Singh Som, the Bharatiya Janata Party member of Uttar Pradesh legislative assembly from Sardhana, along with two others, had acquired land for a meat-processing plant in Aligarh. The report said that land for the company Al Dua Food Processing Private Limited was purchased by Som, who happened… Continue reading
Why lakhs of people leave Odisha to work in distant, unsafe brick-kilns
A small railway station with shanties on either side. A main street running the length of the town, selling everything from household provisions to construction materials. A semi-finished temple, a few lodges and bars, and as the town ends, a series of truck-repair shops. The tiny town of Kantabanji in western Odisha’s Bolangir district looks unremarkable in the summer. But… Continue reading
Why it is premature to exult over Lal Thanzara’s resignation
Last Monday, when allegations of conflict of interest forced Mizoram minister Lal Thanzara to resign from the state cabinet and assembly, there was much excitement in the state. However, the excitement might prove short-lived as the minister could return to the cabinet soon, making this yet another case that slipped through the cracks of India’s anti-corruption… Continue reading
And Lal Thanzara steps down
Yielding to rising pressure, Lal Thanzara, the health minister of Mizoram, on Tuesday resigned from both the state’s assembly and council of ministers. for context, see this. Continue reading
Mizoram CM’s brother claims he didn’t know he owned controversial shares until he read Scroll report
On the 29th of June, we had published an article highlighting endemic corruption in Mizoram’s roads sector. Well, there is an update on the matter now. The CM’s brother, who had been accused of owning shares in a company getting road contracts, has finally responded. In a meeting yesterday with Congress party workers, he said… Continue reading
By limiting Aadhaar, Supreme Court may have given government a way to expand its reach
By now the contours of the events are known. On Tuesday morning, the Supreme Court referred to a Constitution Bench the question of whether Indians have a fundamental right to privacy. The same afternoon, when the judges reconvened, they restricted the use of the government’s biometrics-based identity project Aadhaar to only the public distribution system… Continue reading
Should India import onions?
Once again, India is hyperventilating over onions. In Delhi, say press reports, prices of the bulb have spiked by 25% between July and August. Similar spikes are being reported from elsewhere in the country. In response, blame games are underway. NAFED, a central government agency that procures agricultural produce, has accused the Delhi government of ignoring its missives in April, June… Continue reading
why people in Nagaland and Manipur are responding cautiously to the new Naga peace accord
A day after the NDA announced its “historic” peace accord with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah), speculation is rife in the two states affected most by the agreement – Nagaland and Manipur. What is the shape of the agreement hammered out by government and the rebel group? After all, the NSCN was formed… Continue reading
What the one-time mining boom-town of Koira tells us about modern Odisha
Once a tiny village surrounded by forests, (Koira) had been taken over by the trucking economy. Lured by miners willing to pay high rates for every ton of ore transported down, truckers were flooding in from as far away as Uttar Pradesh. Miners were bribing them to take quicker routes, or paying bonuses to those… Continue reading
Mr Environment Minister, India is carrying out deforestation, not reforestation
On Wednesday morning, Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar gave India one more reason to think of him as among the country’s worst environment ministers till date. As the Indian Express reported, the minister sent out an intra-ministry letter on July 16 asking bureaucrats to replace the term “diversion” of forest land with “reforestation” in their communications. When asked about… Continue reading
The Dongria Kondhs of Odisha now face a more formidable enemy than Vedanta
Two years ago, when the tribal people of Odisha’s thickly forested Niyamgiri hills unanimously rejected the plans of the London-based conglomerate Vedanta Resources to mine bauxite in their lands, it appeared that a decade-long struggle to protect the hills and forests – and the tribal way of life – had finally succeeded. But that might have… 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 email@example.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
“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