In which the Congress starts thinking Cash Transfers could be its salvation in 2014

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About ten days ago, a very interesting public meeting took place in a village called Dudu. Senior Congress leaders, including party chairperson Sonia Gandhi, PM Manmohan Singh, FM P Chidambaram along with five other cabinet ministers, not to mention Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot, flew down to this Rajasthani village to tell a 30,000-strong audience about cash transfers and Aadhaar. In this story, I say that, if Dudu is anything to go by, the Congress is starting to see Cash Transfers as a possible magic bullet for the 2014 elections.

It was an event by the governments of India and Rajasthan. Yet, everything about the meeting – people, flags, hoardings, public mobilisation – at Dudu village in Rajasthan on October 20 showed it was of the Congress, by the Congress, for the Congress. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress supremo Sonia Gandhi, finance minister P Chidambaram, five other cabinet ministers and Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot helicoptered down to this village on the Jaipur-Alwar highway to tell a 30,000-strong audience about cash transfers and Aadhaar. They delivered a flurry of speeches on the advantages of welfare and subsidy benefits flowing directly into people’s bank accounts.

I wrote this story a week after returning from Dudu. The story is mainly a cautionary one. For reasons I explain in the story, cash transfers can all too easily be a double-edged sword for the Congress. And, one of the reasons it might yet blow up in the Congress’ face is an emerging battle over payment architectures between the UIDAI and the Department of Financial Services. More on that in this accompanying story.

Why Coal India Could Not Up Its Production

For all the problems that plague thermal power plants across India — coal stocks of just one week or projects struggling to come up for want of assured coal — Coal India Limited is mostly cited as the fall guy. This Public Sector Undertaking, which holds a near monopoly on coal in India, has seen its output stagnate in the last three years. While it is plagued by internal inefficiencies, the stagnation of CIL’s production at 431 million tonnes (MT) a year is largely the outcome of events beyond its control.

Out today, the second part of the story that appeared yesterday: why Coal India could not meet its production targets. Briefly, there were two ways in which it could have boosted production as companies began stampeding into power generation — commission new mines or extract more from existing ones. In this story, I argue that the UPA asset-stripped Coal India, giving it far fewer coal blocks than it needed to meet the country’s demands. Instead, the centre gave away far more captive coal blocks than it needed to. Creating this situation where a handful of companies have coal while most other companies — about two lakh companies participate in Coal India’s e-auctions alone — are struggling for coal.

The complete story, here.

On Coal and Power

more on king coal. today’s economic times carries the first instalment of our final set of stories on Coal. the stories till now have been mainly diagnostic, focusing on the extent of mismanagement in the coal sector. the stories, starting today, take a look at the outcomes of how india manages coal on land, power and forests.

the first of these stories — on power — came out today. for a while now, we have been hearing about how power plants in the country are starved for coal. well, as the previous post said, ET travelled through Chhattisgarh last month. At the end of that trip, i was more or less convinced that much of the blame for this shortage can be laid at the lotus feet of the captive block policy, not Coal India as everyone tends to. The story out today and the one coming tomorrow (on Coal India) will argue this point out.

with that prologue, here is the story that appeared today. do take a look.

it has been educative. this string of stories on coal. lots of epiphanies on the kind of work i should do once coal ends. a blogpost on all that is mandated once the series ends, i think.

सतपुड़ा के घने जंगल

over the past week and a half, i have been travelling in chhattisgarh. one set of stories on coal are over. and now, my colleagues and i are trying to fathom the linkages between coal, power, land and forests. and so, last sunday, i was in hasdeo arand, the forest over which the go/no go battle had been (and is being) waged. more details on all this when the story comes.

for now, something different. while driving into the forest, and while walking through it looking at the areas where the coal blocks are to come up, i was remembering a poem i had learnt back in sixth or seventh grade — Bhawani Prasad Mishra’s “Satpura Ke Ghane Jungle”.

With apologies to the poet and Manaskriti for IP violation, I am appending the whole poem here.

सतपुड़ा के घने जंगल

सतपुड़ा के घने जंगल।
नींद मे डूबे हुए से
ऊँघते अनमने जंगल।

झाड ऊँचे और नीचे,
चुप खड़े हैं आँख मीचे,
घास चुप है, कास चुप है
मूक शाल, पलाश चुप है।
बन सके तो धँसो इनमें,
धँस न पाती हवा जिनमें,
सतपुड़ा के घने जंगल
ऊँघते अनमने जंगल।

सड़े पत्ते, गले पत्ते,
हरे पत्ते, जले पत्ते,
वन्य पथ को ढँक रहे-से
पंक-दल मे पले पत्ते।
चलो इन पर चल सको तो,
दलो इनको दल सको तो,
ये घिनोने, घने जंगल
नींद मे डूबे हुए से
ऊँघते अनमने जंगल।

अटपटी-उलझी लताऐं,
डालियों को खींच खाऐं,
पैर को पकड़ें अचानक,
प्राण को कस लें कपाऐं।
सांप सी काली लताऐं
बला की पाली लताऐं
लताओं के बने जंगल
नींद मे डूबे हुए से
ऊँघते अनमने जंगल।

मकड़ियों के जाल मुँह पर,
और सर के बाल मुँह पर
मच्छरों के दंश वाले,
दाग काले-लाल मुँह पर,
वात- झन्झा वहन करते,
चलो इतना सहन करते,
कष्ट से ये सने जंगल,
नींद मे डूबे हुए से
ऊँघते अनमने जंगल|

अजगरों से भरे जंगल।
अगम, गति से परे जंगल
सात-सात पहाड़ वाले,
बड़े छोटे झाड़ वाले,
शेर वाले बाघ वाले,
गरज और दहाड़ वाले,
कम्प से कनकने जंगल,
नींद मे डूबे हुए से
ऊँघते अनमने जंगल।

इन वनों के खूब भीतर,
चार मुर्गे, चार तीतर
पाल कर निश्चिन्त बैठे,
विजनवन के बीच बैठे,
झोंपडी पर फ़ूंस डाले
गोंड तगड़े और काले।
जब कि होली पास आती,
सरसराती घास गाती,
और महुए से लपकती,
मत्त करती बास आती,
गूंज उठते ढोल इनके,
गीत इनके, बोल इनके

सतपुड़ा के घने जंगल
नींद मे डूबे हुए से
उँघते अनमने जंगल।

जागते अँगड़ाइयों में,
खोह-खड्डों खाइयों में,
घास पागल, कास पागल,
शाल और पलाश पागल,
लता पागल, वात पागल,
डाल पागल, पात पागल
मत्त मुर्गे और तीतर,
इन वनों के खूब भीतर।
क्षितिज तक फ़ैला हुआ सा,
मृत्यु तक मैला हुआ सा,
क्षुब्ध, काली लहर वाला
मथित, उत्थित जहर वाला,
मेरु वाला, शेष वाला
शम्भु और सुरेश वाला
एक सागर जानते हो,
उसे कैसा मानते हो?
ठीक वैसे घने जंगल,
नींद मे डूबे हुए से
ऊँघते अनमने जंगल|

धँसो इनमें डर नहीं है,
मौत का यह घर नहीं है,
उतर कर बहते अनेकों,
कल-कथा कहते अनेकों,
नदी, निर्झर और नाले,
इन वनों ने गोद पाले।
लाख पंछी सौ हिरन-दल,
चाँद के कितने किरन दल,
झूमते बन-फ़ूल, फ़लियाँ,
खिल रहीं अज्ञात कलियाँ,
हरित दूर्वा, रक्त किसलय,
पूत, पावन, पूर्ण रसमय
सतपुड़ा के घने जंगल,
लताओं के बने जंगल।

– भवानी प्रसाद मिश्र

update: and here, the story on coalgate and forests that had taken me to hasdeo-arand.

Chronicles from a field trip

in october, i travelled to chhattisgarh to take a field-based look at coalgate. what were its wider implications — on power generation, on forests, on land, on farmers. vignettes from that trip.


from where we stand, a farmer asks me to look at that mango tree in the distance — in the middle of the photo. between here and now, he says, and all the way to the right, stood our community forest. it was hard to imagine anything like that. similarly, it was hard to imagine how anyone deals with such transformations in their environment. the villagers had seen their fields replaced with this ugly gash in the ground; there were periodic explosions; a new mountain of excavated earth was rising up next to this bit… travelling through chhattisgarh, it is this i saw most. people and biota exposed to abrupt, cataclysmical change.

gare palma. one of the coal blocks alloted to congress mp and industrialist naveen jindal. before the mine came up, gently sloping fields and stands of community forests and private trees stood in this area. and the local river vended its way thru them. it was hard to imagine anything like that now — a classic instance of the whole landscape and memory bit.

this is gare palma. one of the coal blocks alloted to congress mp and industrialist naveen jindal. before the mine came up, gently sloping fields and stands of community forests and private trees stood in this area. and the local river vended its way thru them. it was hard to imagine anything like that now — a classic instance of the whole landscape and memory bit.


village society itself had changed. some villagers had aligned with the new power centre — the company — and begun buying land on its behalf, etc. others were opposing it. also, in neighbouring gare village, i would hear, bears, traumatised by the loss of their habitat and the bright lights and noise of the mine, had started hiding in bushes in the village. attacks on villagers had climbed steeply.



another powerplant, this one in janjgir champa district, chhattisgarh. villagers walking home after a day spent working as construction labour.


and more…


these farmers had transited from a pastoral life to one of construction labour. when i spoke to them, they spoke bitterly about how their grazing grounds had been taken away by the govt. there was another theme running through all this, though. work on this plant has all but stopped. with some companies getting captive blocks while others did not, the market for power generation is so skewed now that a bunch of power projects are lying incomplete. why throw good money after bad?


another village, again in janjgir champa. here, a powerplant company had bought some land and construction had not started. here, a villager looks at this outsider suspiciously. maybe he thought i was there to buy up land in his village.


companies buying land but not setting anything up had its own kind of collateral damage. farmers like dayaram banzaari had sold some of their land after the broker promised his son a job at the factory. now, he says, the land is gone, there is no plant and there is no job.


hasdeo arand. over which the go/no go debate over mining in forests erupted. i look back at this and feel the environment lost this fight on all counts.


the site of pathriya dand coal block


what a coal block looked like before it became one


while travelling through hasdeo arand, hoping it would give me a better sense of what was at stake in the coalgate debate, i ran into this travelling salesman and his team. they move with their wares from village to village in this area.


his team. much, much later, as i update these photos. i again wonder what will happen to them all – people leading their lives unaware of possible upheavals.


taken while standing in the forest. look at the bark of this tree. so much like the scales of a croc or an alligator.

life in hasdeo arand.

life in hasdeo arand.


and life in nearby korba. a farmer bathes his buffaloes in the ash-laden runoff from a powerplant. that is what all this comes down to, doesn’t it? people used to a particular life. continuing with it as long as they can –perhaps because old habits die hard, perhaps because of choicelessness. and then, if things get untenable, they get cast out to cope the best they can. working as labour in nearby towns, or whatever. at one time, fiction and journalism and cinema captured these realities well. one case in point, this hindi film called gaman. today, these tales are not getting told.


surrounded by coal mines and powerplants, korba is one of the most polluted towns in india. here, a bustling market next to a thermal power plant.


awaiting the six am train from korba to raipur. (an update from almost two years later: the trip ended after some more meetings in raipur. i returned to delhi, wrote two large stories, one on the links between coalgate and the thermal projects, another on the links between coalgate, land and forests. much, much later, there was a better story on the links between coal and land. and then, the coalblock allocation was cancelled by the SC. by then, in some parts of hasdeo, mining had already started. at this time, circa october 2014, i don’t know what lies in store for hasdeo.

for a more detailed look at coalgate, head here, my composite post on all the stories my colleagues and i did on the bally thing.