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No country for the poor: What we have learnt so far from Scroll’s EarToTheGround project

As Scroll’s Ear To The Ground series reaches its halfway point, what have we learnt so far?

The series, for those coming in late, seeks to create a current snapshot of India through reportage from six specially chosen states – one from the North East; one which is mineral-rich; one with Green Revolution agriculture; another with rain-fed farming; and two states that are relatively industrialised. To this end, we picked Mizoram (with additional reporting from Manipur), Odisha, Punjab, Bihar, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat.

The idea was to try and identify some of the larger changes these states have seen over the last five or 10 years and then to try and understand the forces responsible for these changes. We hope that this exercise throws some light on the larger processes shaping India right now.

The project now stands just beyond the halfway mark. We have finished reporting from Mizoram, Manipur, Odisha and Punjab. The Tamil Nadu leg is underway. Bihar and Gujarat will follow next.

Three states and 13 months later, what have we learnt?

and, sigh, one more lal thanzara story

In a decision which underscores the impunity India’s political leaders enjoy, the Congress party’s Mizoram unit has chosen tainted state minister Lal Thanzara as its candidate for the bypoll in Aizawl North constituency on November 21.

and, then, an excellent development. Pu Vanlalvena, the Mizo National Front Youth leader who took on Pu Lal Thanzara over these complaints of corruption, decided to stand against him. Game on.

Why it is premature to exult over Lal Thanzara’s resignation

Last Monday, when allegations of conflict of interest forced Mizoram minister Lal Thanzara to resign from the state cabinet and assembly, there was much excitement in the state. However, the excitement might prove short-lived as the minister could return to the cabinet soon, making this yet another case that slipped through the cracks of India’s anti-corruption framework.

And Lal Thanzara steps down

Yielding to rising pressure, Lal Thanzara, the health minister of Mizoram, on Tuesday resigned from both the state’s assembly and council of ministers.

for context, see this.

Mizoram CM’s brother claims he didn’t know he owned controversial shares until he read Scroll report

On the 29th of June, we had published an article highlighting endemic corruption in Mizoram’s roads sector. Well, there is an update on the matter now. The CM’s brother, who had been accused of owning shares in a company getting road contracts, has finally responded. In a meeting yesterday with Congress party workers, he said he did not know he had shares in the company. That he got to know from the Scroll article.
ps: today, incidentally, is a personal milestone. ten years now, of quitting business reporting for development journalism.

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.