How palm oil from Malaysia fired the Patel agitation in Gujarat

Dhirubhai is in dire straits. He can no longer recover his investments on the groundnuts he grows on three acres of land along the Junagadh-Verawal road in Gujarat.

In a good year, he grows 100 kilos of groundnuts – or peanuts – for every Rs 4,000 he invests. The minimum support price – or the price at which the government buys the crop – is Rs 4,400. But the middle-aged farmer said government officials buy only from “vyapari aur mota rajkarmi” (traders and big farmers). Smaller farmers like him sell to private oil mills at very low rates. Last year, he got just Rs 3,500 for every 100 kilos of groundnuts – lower than both his investment and the minimum support price.

Blame it on rising edible oil imports — especially palm oil. And therein hangs a story. Do read.

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Why does the IAS Association defend HC Gupta but not Ashok Khemka?

Our second piece on this ghastly caterwauling over ex-coal secy HC Gupta.

The fervent defence of former Coal Secretary HC Gupta seems to be taking India into dangerous waters.

India’s Prevention Of Corruption Act, 1988 should be amended, wrote Partha Sen Sharma, a serving Indian Administrative Service officer in The Times Of India on Tuesday, to “make it mandatory to prove pecuniary benefit to a civil servant before he can be implicated in criminal liability”.

Sharma is not the first person to articulate this demand. In the last two weeks, ever since the former coal secretary HC Gupta, currently under trial for his role in the captive coal block allocation scam, told the special CBI court that he wanted to withdraw his personal bond due to financial difficulties, a clutch of serving and retired IAS officials have said that a quid pro quo – a favour or advantage granted in return for something – needs to be established before a bureaucrat can be put up on trial.

Take former cabinet secretary BK Chaturvedi. In a column titled “Civil Servants Bear The Brunt Of Corrupt Governance”, a sentiment that India’s poorer millions would probably have sharp words about, Chaturvedi wrote: “Unless there is clear proof of mala fide decisions made by the officers and clear benefit received by them, criminality cannot be assigned.”

These are problematic suggestions. If accepted, they will result in a dramatic reduction of the bureaucracy’s accountability to the rest of the country.

What the people defending former coal secretary HC Gupta are not telling you

Last week, former Coal Secretary HC Gupta surprised everyone in the Central Bureau of Investigation Court. He intended to “face trial from inside the jail” and withdraw the personal bond he had submitted in order to obtain bail, he told Special Judge Bharat Parashar. Gupta is an accused in several coal block allocation cases relating to corruption. On being asked why, Gupta said he was in financial difficulties, struggling to even engage a lawyer.

The news triggered a minor furore – especially amongst the bureaucracy. The IAS Association announced it would meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad to communicate, as the Indian Express said, the duress officers will be “under if “honest decisions” are construed as mala fide.” “There can be errors of judgement in the course of work,” said secretary of the Association, Sanjay Bhoosreddy. “But that does not mean there is any criminal intent or quid pro quo.” Subsequently, news reports and op-eds – like this and this and this – also warned that the court’s decision to charge Gupta might paralyse the bureaucracy.

On the whole, it seems that both the IAS Association and the people defending Gupta need refresher courses in both accountability and the captive coal block allocation scam.

while in ET, my friends john samuel raja, avinash singh and i had taken a close look at the coal scam. it was educative then. and it is educative now. at that time, we got to see some of the processes damaging india up close. right now, it is a window seat to a different process — on the contest between those wanting to deliver justice and those trying to thwart it.

Questions the CBI should answer before closing its probe in the Jindal coal block case

Even under the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance, the Central Bureau of Investigation’s inquiries into the captive coalblock allocation scam continue to be half-hearted. In the latest instance, as the Indian Express reported on April 2, India’s apex investigating agency has closed its probe into how former Congress Member of Parliament Naveen Jindal’s Jindal Steel and Power Limited landed the Ramchandi Promotional coalblock in Odisha.

This was one of two blocks allotted by the previous United Progressive Alliance government – not for captive use – but to convert the coal in these blocks to oil using a technology that had never been used before in India. The other block was North of Arkhapal Srirampur in the same state. It went to Strategic Energy Technology Systems Limited – a joint venture between India’s Tata Group and South Africa’s Sasol, an energy and chemicals company.

Controversy surrounded these allocations from the start.

And so, it is surprising to see the CBI’s explanation for wanting to close the probe. This, of course, is an old pattern. Back in 2014 too, the CBI was closing coal cases with gusto. See this. And this.

Why hydel-power companies in Arunachal Pradesh want NHPC to take over their projects (and why it won’t)

In a delicious twist of fate, a cluster of private companies that rushed headlong into Arunachal in the late 2000s to build hydel power projects are now, in a turnaround, asking the public sector National Hydel Power Corporation to take over their projects.

The fascinating afterlife of Arunachal Pradesh’s hydel scam.

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.

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.