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 who did multiple trips in a day. Walking down the main street at that time, visitors saw, through a fine, omnipresent red dust, the mushrooming of new businesses – rooms for truckers, shops selling truck spares, roadside repair shops, a new hotel with a liquor license.
In all, Koira had the air of a frontier town in the middle of a gold rush.
Ten years later, it is a very different place.

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 this, Javadekar told the Express: “For every diversion of forest land for a project… compensatory afforestation on equal area of non-forest land is a must. So ultimately, it is reforestation only. This is all about thinking positive and using the right expression.”

The power of positive thinking apart, what Javadekar said is wrong. Compensatory afforestation is not working in India.

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 been a case of premature celebration. Fear and anger are again stalking the hills.

Security camps of the Central Reserve Police Force have been mushrooming in this part of Kalahandi district. From one camp established five years ago, there are now three on the periphery of Niyamgiri. More are expected to come up.

Government officials cite rising Naxal activity as the reason for the security buildup. But among the tribal Kondhs, the increased paramilitary presence is leading to fears that the government is trying to force them off their land.

The CBI must understand trains and bogies if it aims to crack the Vyapam scam

out today, this story which looks at how exam rigging was done in madhya pradesh’s #vyapam scam.

As the number of gangs grew, the market evolved further. First, students began shopping for lowest prices between gangs. This gave rise to a set of disputes which, by 2009, had resulted in the gangs dividing up Madhya Pradesh among themselves in order to avoid competition. Take Sagar. According to Rai, he started in Bhind but was forced to leave by another person in the same business called Deepak Yadav. It is after this dispute that Sagar based himself in Indore. Another doctor, called Tarang Sharma, added Saklecha, operated out of Bhopal.

vyapam continued for long. why did checks and balances not kick in? who is responsible? all questions that the CBI needs to answer.

Vyapam’s hidden costs: Broken dreams and a health system staffed by dodgy doctors

In 2009, Poonam Sharma finished school and turned her thoughts to medical school.
The daughter of a junior police officer, Sharma left home in Shivpuri, in the northern reaches of Madhya Pradesh, for Gwalior, home to coaching centres that promise to help candidates crack all kinds of entrance exams. She enrolled for a year-long coaching programme and began studying for the medical college entry tests in earnest.
It was an intense, immersive time. “I studied for 14 hours every day,” said Sharma, who was 19 at the time. “I would stay up studying till 2 every night.”
However, it soon became clear that something was wrong. “Some students were very sure they would make it,” Sharma said. “They said they had paid money: Rs 12 lakhs if they were in the general category and Rs 3 lakh-Rs 4 lakhs if Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe.” On the morning of the exam, around 4am or 5am, she said, a white van picked up these students and took them to the exam centre. “We later learnt that they had been given the question papers to read,” she said.

A report from Madhya Pradesh about its highly egregious #Vyapam scam.

The Mizoram government spends so much on itself, it has little money for the people

Between March and June, Scroll reported its Ear to the  Ground series from Mizoram. The idea was to create a snapshot of the state and its people at this point in time, to try and understand the major forces shaping the lives of the people in the state. Twelve articles later, what have we learnt?

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 Vaihlos, the local cigarettes. Further inside, four men each sit around four tables, playing cards – dus patta.

Their languor is surprising, the first in a series of questions.Mizoram is witnessing a large road building programme. There are bigger roads coming up linking Mizoram to neighbouring Myanmar and Bangladesh and smaller roads connecting towns and villages to the existing grid of highways. Most of these contracts are awarded by the state Public Works Department. Class 1 contractors, allowed to bid for projects of any size, should ordinarily be bagging some of the bigger jobs and all the smaller ones.

That they are playing dus patta instead confirms what is often heard in Mizoram, from PWD officials, businessmen, contractors and politicians – that most road contracts here go not to local contractors but to a handful of companies owned by non-Mizos. These are Silchar-based ABCI Infrastructures, its sister company GP Projects, Kolkata-based Tantia Constructions, and finally Sunshine Overseas, whose registered office is in Delhi.

To know why, read the story. Also, this is the final story from Mizoram under the Scroll #EarToTheGround project. You can see all those reports here.

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