Is a monopoly taking shape in India’s port sector?

The mood in the Odisha port town of Paradip is turning grey.
Ever since the Adani group bought the neighbouring port of Dhamra last May, people and companies dependent on the port are worried Paradip is being weakened to favour Dhamra. “I handle 70% of the cargo at Paradip. I have 1,000 employees,” said a senior official in Orissa Stevedores, a company which assists with the loading and unloading of cargo from ships. “We will have to shut down if anything happens to Paradip.”
The fears are located not merely in the proximity Gautam Adani, the Chairman of the Adani Group of companies, is alleged to have to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. A clutch of developments in recent months have contributed to them.

What a primary school in Keonjhar tells us about Odisha’s misplaced government spending

Pradip Kumar Behera is trying to beat the odds.
A bespectacled man in his late thirties, he is the headmaster of the government school in Unchabali, a village in Odisha’s mineral-rich district of Keonjhar.
Under his watch are 144 students, mostly from the poorer families in the village, studying in classes from the first grade to the eighth. The school has a tree-filled playground and pucca buildings for its classrooms, but just four teachers.
Behera is trying to cope by running four – not eight – classrooms. Students in the first grade share a room with those in the second. The third and fourth graders sit together, as do those in the fifth and sixth, and the seventh and eighth grades.
While the seventh graders sit to the left of the aisle, the eighth graders sit to the right. The teacher spends an hour with the seventh graders, gives them an assignment, moves to the other side of the room, gives the eight graders an assignment before swinging back to the seventh graders.
The solution is unsatisfactory and troubles Behera. The school runs between 10 am and 4 pm – that’s six hours, not counting the time taken out for the midday meal. “The kids are getting an education for less than three hours every day,” he said. “The education we got was better. We need at least six-seven teachers.”

It’s the same story in health as well. Which leads to the inevitable question on why state funding of health and education is so low in Odisha.

ps: have reached Punjab now. State 3. 🙂

why odisha’s empty engineering colleges hurt students and not their owners

As colleges go, Krutika Institute of Technical Education is certainly educative.
Located on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar, this private engineering college works out of a half-built red and cream building with iron rebars bristling from its top. The lobby stands unfinished with its girders exposed. Similarly unfinished, the water fountain in front is no more than a square pit filled with rainwater, with wild grass like the local white-topped kasatandi growing around it.
The college library is housed in a large hall that is mostly empty. Bookshelves stand at the far end, occupying a rectangular patch the size of a living room.
KITE, as the institute is known in Bhubaneswar, is a college whose plans have gone awry.
According to its faculty, the college was set up about five years ago in the hope of attracting 300 engineering students a year. However, it has been affected by an abrupt collapse in the demand for Odisha’s engineering courses. This year, 31,000 of the 46,000 BTech seats offered by government and private colleges in the state have stayed vacant. At KITE, just 30 students have joined the 2015 class, a faculty member revealed on the condition of anonymity.

Why lakhs of people leave Odisha to work in distant, unsafe brick-kilns

A small railway station with shanties on either side. A main street running the length of the town, selling everything from household provisions to construction materials. A semi-finished temple, a few lodges and bars, and as the town ends, a series of truck-repair shops.

The tiny town of Kantabanji in western Odisha’s Bolangir district looks unremarkable in the summer.

But come November and it whirrs to life as people arrive from the nearby countryside after harvesting the year’s sole rainfed crop. With no work in the villages for the next few months, they come to the town with their meagre belongings to catch trains to Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, where they would spend the next five or six months working in brick-kilns.

During those weeks in November, the town becomes the largest migrant labour market in western Odisha. Its guesthouses and hotels fill up as brick kiln owners called “seths” come to recruit workers, with the help of local labour contractors called “sardars”. Two trains heading to Visakhapatnam – the Korba-VSKP Link Express and  the Durg-VSKP Passenger – extend their halts to make sure all the workers enter (or are loaded into) the unreserved compartments.

the persistence of this trade, despite the migrants knowing the harsh conditions which await them at the kilns, is perplexing. in this story, Scroll’s #eartotheground series tries to find answers.

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.

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.

In which the Banking Correspondent Auctions finally go below the psychological zero percent margin mark…

for a while now, i have been reporting on the never-ending happiness that is the finance ministry’s “one cluster, one BC” model — essentially, to split india into 20 clusters and then to have one common banking correspondent company for all public sector banks operating in each cluster. this company would then be the only conduit through which welfare programme monies (and cash transfers) would flow from banks to the poor pensioners, nrega workers, what have you.

for a while now, there has been some concern that entrusting such a vital role to one company would sooner or later result in it developing monopolistic tendencies. this concern has been deepening as one saw companies put in incredibly low bids to win clusters — for an industry which has been saying that a 2% margin is not enough, bids have ranged between 0.86% to 0.02 and 0.01%.

but now, there is something new under the sun. a company called seashore has emerged as the L1 bidder for Orissa after bidding minus 0.06%. these guys propose to pay the govt 6 paise for every rs 100 the company delivers unto poor households.

makes sense?

no?

read the story, jointly written by my colleagues nageshwar, atmadip and me.