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 a balkanised democracy whose people are poorly aware about the lives of their fellow citizens. The country keeps throwing up surprises ‒ the recent lynching in Dimapur, unexpected election outcomes as in Delhi, a strident new religiosity. It’s getting more difficult to comprehend where we are headed…
i am uploading this post late. my first story for scroll’s field reporting series, called “ear to the ground”, appeared on the 19th. that day, i was in central mizoram — in its lunglei district with dim connectivity. the next day, i travelled further south for another 7 hours and ended up in saiha, one of the three autonomous district councils in mizoram. this evening, as i type this post out belatedly, i am in lawngtlai.
these are all parts of the country i have never seen before. and so many of the issues i am encountering are ones i have never written on earlier. like this first story on dampa.
The park is overrun by assorted gunmen, from local hunters to armed insurgents. A senior forest official in Mizoram’s forest department estimates that, given Dampa’s location, abutting Mizoram’s border with Bangladesh and Tripura, the reserve is used by as many as 12 separatist groups variously to enter or leave India.Key among them are splinter groups of the Shanti Bahini, which is fighting for Chakma autonomy in Bangladesh, and the National Liberation Front of Tripura, which wants to establish the state as an independent Christian nation.
In recent years, the NLFT has carried out a set of kidnappings in and around Dampa. The most recent took place in February, when NLFT insurgents, working with the Bru Democratic Front of Mizoram, kidnapped 22 workers of the Border Roads Organisation near Dampa. While the Mizos were released the same day, two non-Mizos were taken hostage. Unconfirmed reports suggest they were eventually allowed to go, but only after ransom payments were made.
Armed insurgents, however, aren’t the only threat to the park. Dampa exemplifies the complexities of wildlife conservation in the North East, a region where not just animals, even people are caught in the throes of upheaval.
ps: have spent close to a month in mizoram. one month more to go. it is a daunting thought. time goes by so quickly. and there is so much yet to understand.
out today, this quick and dirty story about the issues that need to be considered before allotting coal blocks to state companies for commercial mining. the last time this was tried, things were a complete snafu. see these two stories — one, and two.
So far, the three agencies monitoring air quality in the city – the Central Pollution Control Board, the Indian Meteorological Department and the Delhi Pollution Control Committee – collect and disseminate their numbers separately. The Indian Meteorological Department has digital displays across the city. The Central Pollution Control Board and the Delhi Pollution Control Committee put their numbers online.
But in the new system, the Delhi Pollution Control Committee and the Indian Meteorological Department will stop making their numbers public. Instead, their data will be sent to the Central Pollution Control Board for analysis. “Authenticated air quality information will be communicated to Delhi Pollution Control Committee on daily basis for further dissemination to the public at large,” the government statement said.
And with this, drumroll, I open my account at Scroll.in. ;-)
In his Budget speech, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced plans to set up five new All India Institutes of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh and Assam. This line of action , set up more AIIMS, has been a popular response to both the larger, generic challenge of adequate healthcare and to the many specific problems that have plagued AIIMS, Delhi.
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 operations. Two, the price charged by the MDOs was not on cost-plus basis — it was pegged to the prevailing Coal India price. This was odd because the public sector miner has underground and opencast mines, the former being more expensive to operate, and its price is an average of its cost of coal extraction from both kinds of mines. In contrast, the MDO blocks were all surface mines.
What is more, several such JVs were signed well before the blocks were even allotted. Take Karnataka Power Corporation Ltd (KPCL). It signed an MDO contract with Kolkata-based Eastern Minerals & Trading Agency (EMTA) on February 19, 2002. However, blocks were allotted to KPCL on November 10, 2003 — over a year and half later. This created a fresh puzzle. Given the competitive frenzy to get coal blocks, why were the state PSUs so sure they would land one that they signed mining contracts even before the blocks were alloted?
Ten years after the tsunami, life in India’s coral-fringed Nicobar Islands is settling into a new pattern. For the most part, it is an ugly one. In the tiny island of Car Nicobar—it has a perimeter of just 45 kms—even 12 year olds are getting drunk. “There was always some drinking,” comments Samir Acharya, a local environmentalist. “But what we are seeing now is binge drinking.” Hard liquor is the most preferred drink now, not toddy.There are other changes. The traditional community structure, where extended families lived together in homes large enough for all of them, is being replaced by nuclear families. The islands are now far more dependent on the world outside for their supplies. With that, the local economy has changed from a simple one bartering or selling coconuts to a far more complex and cash-intensive one.
for a while now, i have been trying to go on a cycle ride at the end of every year — have succeeded three out of four years. in 2014, biologist vidya athreya and i went to the andamans. and i came back and wrote this story about cycling up the islands.
The friend is a biologist curious to see what the forests in this archipelago are like — the Andaman & Nicobar Islands were connected to what is now Indonesia before rising sea levels cut them off. As such, not only are life forms on the isles closer in origin to Indonesian than Indian ones, their geographic isolation has resulted in the creation of several species unique to them. As for me, I am looking to get into shape. This is also my second trip to the islands — the first was a reporting assignment in 2004 just before the tsunami. The ride is a chance to see how the patterns I spotted then – water shortages, over-population, and decimation of the indigenous people – have unfolded since.