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 doesn’t remember the exact day – he got a letter from the department saying the part of the programme that employed him had been closed.

Peecee, with an earnest mien which makes him look much younger than 28, was not the only one axed. In all, 366 staffers, mostly lab technicians and clerks, lost their jobs. The job cuts have followed a budgetary squeeze in New Delhi….

…Faced with less funds, the central government officials overseeing the programme retained teachers but axed clerks, lab technicians and counsellors…. Since jobs are hard to find in Mizoram, the sacked employees – mostly between 25 and 35 years old – panicked. Some of them had married recently. Others had become parents. Some others had taken bank loans they were still repaying. Peecee had taken a loan to pay for the treatment of his grandmother who died of cancer. 

In late April, 70-80 of them went on a hunger strike. They went without food for 12 days, calling the fast off only after the state education minister assured them that whenever the state finds funds, they will be the first to be hired.

In the weeks and months ahead, Mizoram is likely to see many more such protests. Mainly due to the 14th Finance Commission. This story explains why.

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 is roaring. At her cosmetics shop which stocks both Indian and imported cosmetics, J Lalremruati says most customers favour foreign products. People here think they are not fair enough, she explains. “If the idea is to be more like the Koreans, then why would they buy Indian creams?”

While teenagers in Delhi and Mumbai mimic Jennifer Aniston’s hairdo in Friends, Mizoram’s young people are looking east. “A girl in one of a Korean serial wore her hair as a bun to one side of her head,” said Marina, who works at an Aizawl restaurant. “My friends and I copied her for some time.” Periodically, she and her friends look for clothes like those worn by the actors in the serials.

Even the furniture in people’s homes is changing, says Lalnghinglova Hmar, joint editor of the largest-selling Mizo daily Vanglaini. People are buying furniture that resembles the sets they see in the Korean soaps. The state even has a store called Gangnam Style.

The immediate trigger for these changes is well known. In the last eight years or so, Mizoram, like the rest of the North East, has seen a large South Korean wave. Korean movies and television serials, dubbed in Mizo and broadcast every day by around 10 local TV channels, are the most watched programmes in the state these days.

What is less clear, however, is how this interest in Korean culture started.

In Mizoram, Facebook groups take readers where newspapers fail to tread

“Have you seen the papers here?” asks PC Zosangzuala.

The 28-year-old and I are sitting in a tiny tea shop off Aizawl’s old Zodin theatre. It is Saturday evening. The city is slowly shutting down for Sabbath. And I have just asked him how he accesses news.

He doesn’t answer immediately. Instead, Peecee, as his friends call him, asks the young girl behind the counter if she has a copy of the day’s paper. She doesn’t. No matter. He leans forward on the table, blinks earnestly, and says, “Have you seen the papers here? The first page has local and state news. The second page is national news. The third is notifications. The fourth has articles by Mizo writers. The fifth is ads. And then the last three pages are sports. Why should I read a paper like that when I can get much more news on the internet?”

Out today, my story on the facebook discussion groups in Mizoram!

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 sold, while others fetched a quarter of it. A similar divergence is also visible in the auctions of coal blocks for the power sector. Here, the concern is over the viability of the some of the bids. In a report published on March 16, which analysed the second round of auctions for the power sector, stock brokerage firm HDFC Securities said, “We believe there is a high probability of end use plants becoming unviable, even after factoring in merchant sales.”

the second part of our two-part story on the ongoing coalblock auctions. See previous post.

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 – 31 blocks, not 20, have been auctioned in two rounds – might be the least of the problems with the government’s triumphal sentiment.

To start with, as a report in Business Standard explains, the Rs 200,000 crore is not a one-time payment flowing into government coffers, but revenues that are likely to accrue over the lifetime of the mines. These revenues include royalties that states would have earned regardless of whether the mines had been allotted or auctioned.

While auctions are an improvement over the discretionary allotments of the past, and the government has shown swiftness in moving ahead with them, what isn’t well understood is that the design of the auctions has a significant impact on their transparency and outcomes. Competitive auctions are meant to provide a market-based mechanism to discover the value of a resource. But poor design could impede price discovery.

As the government prepares for a third round of auctions, Scroll in a two-part series, takes a closer look at the first two rounds. Our analysis raises worrying questions about both the design of the auctions and their outcomes.

Why medical workers are taking personal loans to keep Mizoram’s healthcare system running

One late evening in April, a senior official with the Mizoram health administration sat in his office in Aizawl, frustrated and angry. It was dark outside. Most of his staff had left for the day. “If they delay it by two months it is okay, if they delay it by three months we may manage, but it is four months now,” said the official, with discernible worry. The Mizoram Health Society, which decides how healthcare funds get used in the state, was to get Rs 25 crore from the treasury last November. That was the third and final instalment for the year 2014. Even today, the society is waiting for the funds transfer.

While the official watches helplessly, all around him the healthcare system is collapsing. Funds are needed for running hospitals and clinics, for programmes fighting malaria, tuberculosis and disease control, for immunisation, family planning, childbirth and care of new mothers. The delay is disrupting them all. “It’s not that our funds don’t come,” the health official said. “They eventually do. But the problem is the mismatch between the routing of funding and the needs of the schemes.” To tide over these shortages, he added, “We are telling staff to take loans to keep the work going. That we will reimburse them when the money comes.”

Why AIDS is about to explode in mizoram

Out today, my story on why Mizoram’s AIDS crisis is all set to worsen.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 94 other followers