‘Ear To The Ground’. What we reported on between 2015 and 2017.

In March, 2015, Scroll.in kicked off a reporting project called ‘Ear To The Ground‘. It was meant to ID the largest changes afoot in six handpicked states — and to use them to understand the major processes shaping India now. As that project draws to a close, it is nostalgia-time (for me, at any rate). […]

Few people seem happy with BJP’s rule in Gujarat, yet the party still controls the state. Why?

In April 2017, Scroll.in’s Ear to the Ground project reached Gujarat. Each of the other states covered by the project thus far – Mizoram, Odisha, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Bihar – showed one democratic malfunction or another. What about Gujarat? Gujarat is unique in our subset of six states in having been under the rule […]

Urban planning: Why Gujarat’s cities are losing their fight against a changing climate

Out today, the second — and concluding — part of our series on Gujarat and climate variability. Urban planning has seen a lot of changes in Gujarat. Take Rajkot. In 1973, when this town in Saurashtra became a municipality, its municipal corporation was responsible for urban planning. That changed in 1976 when Gujarat passed the […]

Gujarat is battered by heat waves, floods, drought. How are its cities coping?

What does the climate map of Gujarat currently look like? Southern parts of the state get fewer days of rainfall now. In Surat, for instance, locals say that rainfall patterns over the city began changing about 15 years ago, with the city getting fewer days of rain each year. However, the rainfall is more intense, […]

The Amul story: How politics is hurting the economics of Gujarat’s milk cooperatives

In the winter of 2013, the inner workings of Amul briefly became public. A boardroom putsch was underway. The directors of no less than 14 of the 17 district milk cooperatives that were then part of the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation, which owns the Amul brand, had turned against chairman Vipul Chaudhary. A member […]

The majoritarian project in Gujarat only serves the rich, says political scientist Ghanshyam Shah

In the run-up to Assembly elections in December, Gujarat is in the throes of powerful forces. On the one hand, some of its principal economic pillars, such as small manufacturing and agriculture, are in trouble. At the same time, the state is seeing a curious fissuring. What was once a separation between Hindus and Muslims […]

‘This government is killing our businesses’: What small, medium enterprises think of GST revisions

After Friday’s GST Council meeting, which decided to cut the goods and services tax rate on two dozen commodities and announced relaxations for exporters and small and medium companies, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the changes brought in an early Diwali. The business press was bullish as well. “Three months on, GST now good for […]

How palm oil from Malaysia fired the Patel agitation in Gujarat

Dhirubhai is in dire straits. He can no longer recover his investments on the groundnuts he grows on three acres of land along the Junagadh-Verawal road in Gujarat. In a good year, he grows 100 kilos of groundnuts – or peanuts – for every Rs 4,000 he invests. The minimum support price – or the […]

Why small businessmen in Gujarat are quitting industry and turning to financial speculation

Two major trends are playing out in Gujarat’s economy. On one hand, small industrial units are shutting down. This is not a recent development. Micro, small and medium units in the state started getting into trouble about five years ago, well before the central government demonetised high-value currency notes in November and introduced the Goods […]

Two months in, How is GST affecting Surat’s textile hub?

Three months ago, when the central government was getting ready to roll out the Goods and Services Tax, the textile industrial cluster of Surat, Gujarat, India’s biggest manufacturer of synthetic fabrics, was distinctly nervous. At play were two conflicting views of how the new tax regime would affect India’s predominantly informal business sector. The government […]

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. […]

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 […]

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 […]

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, […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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, […]

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 […]

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.” […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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.

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 […]

‘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 […]

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, […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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. […]

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 – […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

On political corruption in Mizoram’s roads sector

Step into the office of the Class 1 Contractors’ Association in Aizawl and you wonder if any civil construction happens in Mizoram at all.Tucked away on the ground floor of an unremarkable building behind the excise office, the office is decidedly laidback. Next to an unattended reception desk, two women roll a large number of […]

In violence-scarred Manipur, ancient scrolls show why AFSPA will not work

About 300 years ago, a time when India’s North East was a hive of tribal chiefdoms and tiny kingdoms, Manipur was invaded by Tripura. After a pitched battle, Manipur defeated the invaders. The aggressors were on the run, the Manipuris in pursuit, when a seer reminded Manipur’s ruler King Pamheiba that a sacred Manipuri code […]

Why children in Manipur are writing postcards to Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Stacked on a dining table which doubles up as a workdesk in the office of Human Rights Alert lie postcards written by schoolchildren in Manipur and addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging him to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and save democracy in India. For years, Manipur’s people have been appealing and […]

A new gateway to the North East runs into – and jumps over – a corruption roadblock

Can one road change the fortunes of a state? Mizoram is hoping so. Once ready, National Highway 502A, the road it is banking on, will connect the state to a port in Myanmar from where ships will ply to Kolkata and beyond. Not only will this create an alternative to the narrow Siliguri Corridor which […]

On why the 14th Finance Commission is bad news for Mizoram

In early April, PC Zosangzuala lost his job. About three years ago, the 28-year-old had been hired by an Indian government programme which supports India’s middle schools – Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan. The job contract signed by “Peecee”, as his friends call him, suggested the programme would run till 2017. However, on April 4 or April 5 – he […]

Seoul-stirring soaps in Aizawl: How South Korea’s soft power is changing Mizoram

Stay for a while in Mizoram’s capital Aizawl and you start catching glimpses of South Korea. Travel around the state and the images emerge repeatedly ‒ in the clothes, the hair styles, even the furniture. In Champhai, the district that conducts most of the trade between Mizoram and Myanmar, business in fairness creams and hair colour […]

On the BJP’s attempts to curry favour in Mizoram…

Last month, for the first time, the Bharatiya Janata Party won an election in Mizoram. The party contested 201 seats in 37 village councils in the autonomous tribal area for Chakmas, a Buddhist community that is an ethnic minority in the predominantly Christian state. It won 42 seats and a majority in seven councils. “We are […]

How the congress subverted its biggest rural development programme in Mizoram

Until last fortnight, most nights in Mizoram were lit up by the red glow of forest fires. Long thin lines of flame, rising and falling along the contours of the hills, ate their way up through the forest. It was jhum time in the state, when farmers who practice the traditional practice of slash-and-burn cultivation […]

Mizoram governor’s sacking is BJP’s latest misstep in a state it is trying to woo

When Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah makes his planned visit to Mizoram this month, officials of his organisation’s state unit have arranged for him to meet with church elders and receive a memorandum from them. Their note will remind the BJP that “India is a secular state, that the people of Mizoram are against the […]

Announcing “Ear To The Ground”

How is India doing? It’s hard to say. While some of the major changes underway in the country are extremely visible, others, less dramatic or occurring away from the media’s usual hunting grounds, are more difficult to detect. Between them, we have an incomplete understanding of India as it is today. The fallout is predictable. We live in […]