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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

On the new forest diversion norms

Last week, India’s environment ministry overhauled the process it follows for identifying forests where industrial activities can be permitted. Instead of using six parameters — forest type, biological richness, wildlife value, density of forest cover, integrity of the landscape, and hydrological value – for deciding whether a forestland can be given over for, say, mining, […]

as in iron ore, so in sand

Last Sunday, the Uttar Pradesh government suspended Durga Shakti Nagpal, the sub-divisional magistrate of Gautam Buddh Nagar who had been cracking down on the sand mafia. Three days later, Pale Ram Chauhan, a Noida-based activist who had taken on the local sand mining mafia, was killed. Sand mining is back under the scanner. As are […]

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, […]

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 […]

on rising murmurs of rent seeking in india’s environment ministry

while working on the coal and hydel stories (the latter is yet to be published), i kept hearing about rising corruption in the environment ministry. some of those conversations found their way into a story in today’s ET, by my colleagues soma, urmi and me, on why the environment ministry and environment minister jayanthi natarajan […]

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 […]

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 […]

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’, […]

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 […]

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 […]

More Trouble for Lafarge

Lafarge’s plan to set up a Rs 900-crore cement plant in Himachal has run into environmental trouble with the National Environmental Appellate Authority quashing the clearance granted to the project by environment ministry in June 2009. More here. The curious thing is this. The NEAA order quashing the clearance said Lafarge erroneously represented the mining area as […]

The New Committee to Study Vedanta

THE Anil Agarwal promoted Vedanta Aluminas plans for sourcing bauxite from the Niyamgiri hills in the Kalahandi district of Orissa will have to wait.The environment ministry has set up a four-member committee headed by National Advisory Council member NC Saxena.The other three members of the committee are Dr S Parasuraman,director,Tata Institute of Social Sciences;retired IFS […]

The Rule of Law as an Optional Extra

And then, there is Lafarge. The issue is whether Lafarge Umiam Mining should have sought a forest clearance while seeking environmental clearance in 2000 to mine limestone in the East Khasi Hills to feed a Lafarge cement plant in Bangladesh. Critics, like the SC’s Central Empowered Committee, say the company submitted a misleading Environmental Impact Assessment […]

sense and nonsense in the debate over vedanta’s lanjigarh plans

for the longest time, vedanta’s bauxite mining plans in lanjigarh, orissa, have been a lightening rod for criticism. earlier this year, the environment ministry abruptly turned against it. one reason cited for this switch was the congress’ need to hold onto the tribal vote. but things had been simmering at the ground as well. and so, in […]

Vedanta, Niyamgiri and the Congress

Plans by Vedanta Resources to mine bauxite in Niyamgiri in Orissa, already delayed by vehement protests from non-governmental organisations, seem likely to suffer further damage—quite possibly terminal—as the Congress reaches out to India’s tribal population, sections of which have come under the influence of the grand old party’s arch rival BJP while others have fallen […]

Santosh Hegde, Karnataka and the Illegal Mining Machinery

In 2007, the Karnataka Lokayukta, established to investigate grievances with administrative actions, was asked by the state government to study rampant illegal mining in the state. Though this report, finalised as early as December, 2008, has been doing surreptitious rounds in government, legal and mining circles, it is yet to be made public. This document, a […]