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
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
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
Will India’s recent coal block auctions actually burden banks and skew the fuel market?
The first part of Scroll’s analysis of the coal block auctions took a close look at the auctions for the steel, cement and aluminium sectors. It found an extremely wide divergence in the winning bids. Some blocks went for twice the notified price of coal, or the price at which the bulk of India’s coal is… Continue reading
Are the coal block auctions as successful as the Modi government claims?
At a gathering in Paris last month, drawing attention to the coal block auctions that have taken place under his government, Prime Minister Narendra Modi boasted, “Twenty coal blocks out of 204 have been auctioned so far and we got more than Rs. 2 lakh crore from them.” The factual error in the statement –… Continue reading
Why the CBI cannot claim much glory for filing a chargesheet against Naveen Jindal
The Central Bureau of Investigation on Wednesday filed a chargesheet against industrialist Naveen Jindal and 14 others in the Amarkonda Murgadangal coal block allocation matter. The matter will come up for hearing in the CBI court on Thursday. Apart from Jindal, among those named in the chargesheet are former Minister of State (Coal) Dasari Narayana… Continue reading
the clause that landed emta its coalblocks…
As litigation amps up after the Supreme Court’s cancellation of all captive coal-block allocations, court documents are throwing light on one of the more puzzling aspects of the coal scam — the 74:26 MDO agreements… These JVs had several striking features. The MDOs held 74% in the JVs — which meant they controlled the mining… Continue reading
Coalgate. Part Two.
Last week, the NDA’s Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Ordinance, 2014, was greeted rapturously. Comforting a country facing coal shortages, it laid out a road map for ensuring coal supplies in the wake of the Supreme Court’s order last month cancelling captive coal-block allocations. But will the ordinance fix the mess left behind by the previous… Continue reading
and the supreme court deallocates all blocks…
yesterday, shortly after 2 pm, the supreme court deallocated almost all captive coalblocks — sparing just the umpps and two JV-less blocks of sail and ntpc. with that, i guess, ends my reporting on the captive coal block allocations. see these two links. one, this bouncy little primer written yesterday on what coalgate was all… Continue reading
what the affidavits submitted by the 40 operational coal block owners tell us…
Earlier this month, companies with operating captive coal blocks submitted affidavits in the Supreme Court. Attempting to ensure their blocks, 40 in all, are not deallocated along with those where mining has not started, these affidavits listed investments made, the quantum of coal produced and the production from the End Use Plant (EUP) paired with… Continue reading
#coalgate. as for the attempts to avoid deallocation of operational blocks…
my previous story on the supreme court hearings into the captive coal block allocation was a bit of a curtain-raiser. it said when hearings resume on monday, the biggest question before the judges will be re: what to do with the blocks where mining has already started. as things turned out, a set of industry… Continue reading
what should be done with the coalblocks where mining has already started?
On Monday, the Supreme Court will decide what to do with captive coal blocks, having deemed more than 200 allocations made since 1993 to be illegal. While writing their order, one of the biggest questions before Chief Justice R M Lodha and his fellow judges Madan Lokur and Kurian Joseph will relate to the 40-odd… Continue reading
how to clean up the coal allocation mess
With the Supreme Court announcing that the captive coal block allocations were illegal, India needs to engage with a new set of questions on coal. Right now, our coal industry is a mess. It has spawned oligarchs, hurt local populations and decimated local ecosystems. While doing all this, it simultaneously failed to supply the country… Continue reading
and the supreme court comes in with an excellent verdict
yesterday, the SC ruled that all coal block allocations, from 1993 onwards, were illegal. and i, little rajshekhar, wrote this edit. The Supreme Court’s ‘Coalgate’ verdict needs to be welcomed. It gives India a rare second chance to fix terrible decisions made by our politicians. The coal allocations scandal is not an outrage merely because… Continue reading
on coal and ppps
The Economic Survey, last month, said there was an urgent need to fast-track the entry of private sector in coal mining to increase production of this mineral and, by extension, reduce imports. Subsequently, coal and power minister Piyush Goyal stated the government was considering the use of public-private partnerships (PPPs) to achieve this objective. PPPs… Continue reading
on the CBI’s decision to start filing closure reports…
in the past few days, india’s central bureau of investigation (CBI), one of the country’s apex investigating bodies, has closed some of the FIRs it had registered while peering into the captive coalblock allocations. the reason it cited was ‘insufficient evidence’. more recently, unnamed CBI officials have been giving interviews saying that there is no… Continue reading
no easy way to clean up the upa’s coalgate mess
last week, the supreme court finished hearing all arguments on whether the coalblock allocations should be cancelled or not. in the coming weeks, we will know india will find a sensible conclusion to the whole #coalgate saga or not. based on what we have reported so far, this can still go either way. the government… Continue reading
on the investment in captive coal blocks
Last week, defending the Centre in its coal-block allocations, Goolam Vahanvati, the government’s top law officer, told the Supreme Court that companies had invested Rs 2,00,000 crore in their captive blocks. Some industry players have been citing this figure as the financial cost of a complete cancellation of licences. But ET calculations on the estimated… Continue reading
on how india’s attempts to fix the coalgate mess are faring
in the days after the cbi’s 14th FIR, delhi’s political circles crackled with ignorant speculation. the FIR was the congress’ way of warning industry against supporting narendra modi, the BJP’s prime minister aspirant; the FIR had been filed to discredit pc parakh, the former coal secretary; a rival business group was trying to scupper industrialist… Continue reading
on cbi fir #14
i reported for this story on the latest cbi fir — the one which named industrialist kumar mangalam birla and former coal secretary pc parakh. Continue reading
too much coal in too few hands
So far, debates over Coalgate have been an exercise in selective attention. In the early days, most discussion pivoted around the UPA’s decision to allot blocks through the screening committee, and not auctions. The spotlight then settled on politicians whose family members got coal blocks, before moving to the UPA’s inspired attempts to vet what… Continue reading
coal to liquid projects. #coalgate
In the report it submitted last week, the parliamentary standing committee on coal observed that the inter-ministerial group (IMG) whose recommendations formed the basis of allotment of two large coal blocks to private players for conversion to oil “has not performed its duty honestly”. While the report does not elaborate on the IMG’s alleged failings,… Continue reading
a seemingly innocuous transaction
A company owned by former and current directors of the Naveen Jindal Group, and then by Naveen Jindal himself, gave an unsecured loan of Rs 2.25 crore in 2008 to a nondescript trading company, which used it to buy new shares on extremely generous terms of a company owned by Dasari Narayana Rao, one of… Continue reading
And more on coal…
After a draft report by the Comptroller and Auditor General saying the government had foregone revenues of Rs 10 lakh crore by not auctioning the blocks was leaked, most public discussions had pivoted around two themes. One, why did UPA1 ignore the suggestion of the then-Coal Secretary to allot blocks through auctions, preferring instead to… Continue reading
On the real contours of “Coal-Gate”
This post aggregates all the stories my colleagues John Samuel Raja D, Avinash Singh and I did on India’s captive coal block allocation scam between June last year and now. The articles were an attempt to understand ‘coalgate’ in as much detail as possible. Given that we now live in an age of media clutter,… Continue reading
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… Continue reading
Why Coal India Could Not Up Its Production
For all the problems that plague thermal power plants across India — coal stocks of just one week or projects struggling to come up for want of assured coal — Coal India Limited is mostly cited as the fall guy. This Public Sector Undertaking, which holds a near monopoly on coal in India, has seen… Continue reading
On Coal and Power
more on king coal. today’s economic times carries the first instalment of our final set of stories on Coal. the stories till now have been mainly diagnostic, focusing on the extent of mismanagement in the coal sector. the stories, starting today, take a look at the outcomes of how india manages coal on land, power… Continue reading
Chronicles from a field trip
in october, i travelled to chhattisgarh to take a field-based look at coalgate. what were its wider implications — on power generation, on forests, on land, on farmers. vignettes from that trip. for a more detailed look at coalgate, head here, my composite post on all the stories my colleagues and i did on the… Continue reading
an embattled naveen jindal hits out
“You can find out from analysts if in their valuation of JSPL, they ascribe any value to any of these (coal) blocks? What they tell me is ‘no’.” in this interview to ET, naveen jindal, the head of Jindal Power and Jindal Steel and Power, makes a startling claim. Continue reading
the five habits of successful coal block allottees (that manage to pip more eligible companies to coal blocks)
today’s ET carried a story which tries to answer one of the many puzzling questions thrown up by the coal scam — how did small, obscure companies like Jas Infrastructure or Vini Steel & Power bag a coal block where larger, more established ones failed? a part of the answer lies in, yes, the screening… Continue reading
On why the institutional action being taken to clean up coal is necessary but not sufficient
On Tuesday, ET carried a small update on how the institutional response to coal-gate was shaping up. That article ended by concluding it will take more than these responses to clean up the suppurating mess in the indian coal sector. A story by my brilliant friend/colleague Avinash Celestine and me in today’s ET Magazine elaborates… Continue reading
a third skeleton in the UPA cupboard
A company brand new to the steel business and owned by the sons of Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Prem Chand Gupta applied for a coal block when he was the Union minister for corporate affairs and bagged it about a month after his tenure ended along with that of his government. This is the third… Continue reading
Coal. The Measure of Institutional Action
The story of alleged irregularities in the allocation of coal blocks to private players for captive use is taking a distinct turn, with institutions at three levels responding within their jurisdiction, and a chance of a fourth one stepping in. a quick and dirty update on what the CBI, the Parliament and the government itself… Continue reading
the man who controls 14 coal blocks
heard of a company called emta? no? i hadn’t either when i started work on the coal stories. and yet, over the last 15 years, it has silently raced up to become one of the largest cos in india’s coal economy. its coal reserves, say industry wallahs, rival those of western coalfields, which is one… Continue reading
parsing the coal allocation numbers
parsing the list of allocated coal blocks throws up some interesting patterns. for instance, some companies got coal blocks that would last them less than five years. others got enough coal to last them over 200 years. similarly, the top ten business groups garnered as much as 20% of all the reserves alloted, the top… Continue reading
is the cag’s coal report too conservative?
one of the major strands of media reporting in the aftermath of the coal report being tabled in the parliament is whether the cag report got its arithmetic right. all manner of reporters and pundits have been loudly arguing that it presents too inflated a number. the finance minister has recently said that there was… Continue reading
Coal and Corruption. Part Two. Enter, Political Funding
following from the previous story, this one too says that corruption in coal goes far beyond the allocation of captive coal blocks. and that one of the larger forces driving corruption in this sector is the opaque manner in which our political parties are funded. It was a roundtable on ‘campaign finance reforms in India’,… Continue reading
The Mess in Coal. The Rot Runs Deeper
while writing on coal, it is essential to remember that corruption here is not limited to just the allocation of captive coal blocks. if anything, corruption is rife in this sector which seems to be creating india’s own personal resource curse. this story focuses on one of the other ways in which corruption in coal… Continue reading
Understanding India’s coal shortage: Captive blocks
something doesn’t add up here. over the last few months, the country has been awash in news reports about the sudden coal shortage being faced by power projects and others across india. these assertions are somewhat puzzling. for instance, india needs 731 million tons of coal every year. however, the total coal allocated to companies… Continue reading
is the environment ministry responsible for the shortfall in coal production?
a red letter day. i had two stories in the paper today. the first explored a rather curious contradiction. all this time, we have been hearing that the environment ministry has been diluting environment and forest clearance processes and clearing every project that hoves into sight. at the same time, there is this insistence by… Continue reading
on india’s coal shortage
Blocks were to be given to companies that needed captive coal-mines- to feed their steel, cement, power and sponge iron plants. A lot of companies showed plants on paper – as something they were planning to set up – and they were allocated mines… The companies that got the mines are not extracting coal. They… 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.
12 November, 2022: Stop Loss: Overcoming the systemic failures of the Indian State. Tata Literature Festival, Mumbai.
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