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Black dust and bicycles November 4, 2013

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Lahiri-Dutt, Kuntala , comments closed

Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt

Rural peasants once reliant on farming and forestry for their livelihood are turning to bicycles and India’s massive coal industry to survive.

Coal in India is much more than a mineral resource. For a country where coal-fired thermal power plants produce most electricity and one where 540 million people are still waiting to be connected to the grid, coal has always been ‘a national asset’, a symbolic icon of national pride.

A man and boy push bags of coal on their bicycle. Photo by Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt.

India is the world’s third-largest producer of coal, the only country that can boast a separate ministry for coal, and a place where the train to the collieries is lovingly named as the ‘Black Diamond Express’.


India’s challenges in Afghanistan post-2014 August 9, 2013

Posted by southasiamasala in : Afghanistan, Guest authors, India , comments closed

Rupakjyoti Borah

With the United States set to begin direct talks with the Taliban, India’s strategic position in the region has been upended. The talks are the result of a stalemate: the United States knows it cannot defeat the Taliban militarily and the Taliban knows that as long as Western forces are in Afghanistan they can only have partial control of the country. But while Pakistan will gain from a face-saving US exit, since it will allow Pakistan to increase its so-called ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan, India faces difficult policy choices in Afghanistan after Western forces pull out in 2014.

So why is Afghanistan important for India?


Mining protest in Andhra Pradesh: silence, then bursts of noise October 16, 2012

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Oskarsson, Patrik , comments closed

Patrik Oskarsson

Bauxite mines in the so called Jerrela group of hills received environmental approval by the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) in 2009 to provide ore for the upcoming aluminium complex of ANRAK Aluminium nearby in the foothills of Visakhapatnam District. But the opposition to mining is significant in the local area with a lot of support in larger civil society as well as from certain parts of the national government such as the Tribal Welfare Minister Kishore Chandra Deo. Despite all statutory clearances having been received, apart from a final approval to remove forest, it is this pressure which continues to prevent the mines from opening or even preparatory work from commencing. A day before our visit to the nearest town Chintapalli and Jerrela in June 2012 Maoists rebels (usually known as Naxalites) had added to the otherwise peaceful protests by beating up road workers who were in the process of widening a road to allow ore trucks to carry their heavy loads from the mines to the refinery.

Protesting CPM activists in front of the APMDC mining office in Chintapalli, Visakhapatnam

Protesting CPM activists in front of the APMDC mining office in Chintapalli, Visakhapatnam. Source: Photo published in the Andhra Pradesh newspaper Eenadu, Visakhapatnam rural edition on 1 July 2012


SAM recommends … ‘Indian mining out of control’ June 15, 2012

Posted by sandygordon in : Gordon, Sandy, India, South Asia Masala Recommends , comments closed

Sandy Gordon

Items on corruption surrounding mining in India have featured prominently on this site. In that context, we are now drawing attention to an important new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) on corruption in mining and its human consequences.

The HRW report chronicles instances of the Indian mining industry being ‘out of control’ – that is, virtually unsupervised by the state and federal authorities responsible for it. The human and environmental consequenses have been dramatic.

The HRW report also suggests some remedies: upgrade resources in the relevant environmental and forestry departments, which are woefully inadequate; remove responsibility from mining companies for funding and commissioning environmental impact statements (EISs), many of which have been fraudulent; and review past EIS reports, with prosecutions and cessation of mining where they are found to be fraudulent. For the full report, click here and follow the links.

Information is explosive at Singareni Collieries May 3, 2012

Posted by nishankmotwani in : Guest authors, India , comments closed

Patrik Oskarsson

I approached the public sector Singareni Collieries coal mining company in August 2011 at their head office in Kothagudem of Khammam District in Andhra Pradesh, as part of an ActionAid-sponsored study looking at the local livelihood impact of coal mining. The experiences of trying to interact with the company illustrate how, despite a Right To Information Act being in place for more than five years, a change in the organizational culture towards transparency is yet to set in.

Day 1

On the phone my contact made it seem as if it would be easy to just drop into the office without an appointment. Of course this was far from the truth. After some amount of searching we get to the very quiet project and planning building. Once we find somebody to talk to we are immediately directed to the head, the General Manager (GM). But the GM is not authorized to share information with an outside researcher. We are directed to his boss, the Director P&P (Project and Planning), who sits in the main office in the next building down the road. (more…)

India’s internal security conundrum September 15, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, India , comments closed

Guest author: Ashutosh Misra

Blood has spilled on the streets again, right under the nose of India’s symbols of democracy and power – the Indian parliament, President House and the Supreme Court, all situated within few kilometres of the Delhi High Court where 11 people died and over 45 were injured in a suitcase bomb blast on 7 September. Harkat-ul-Jihadi Islami (HUJI), the Bangladesh-based outfit has taken has the responsibility as a mark of protest against the impending hanging of the 2001 parliament attack accused Afzal Guru. Initial investigations have shown traces of Indian Mujahideen  (IM) involvement as well and several arrests have been made in this connection in the last couple of days. This second major incident since the 13 July serial blasts in Mumbai and 25 May blast at the same spot outside the Delhi High Court has yet again put the spotlight on India’s intelligence agencies and police force, questioning whether India possesses the wherewithal to rein in these unrelenting attacks.

As the government struggles to recover from the battering it received from the Anna Hazare-led nationwide movement against corruption, India’s internal security situation remains delicately poised. City after city continues to be targeted brazenly by terrorist groups indicating that a decade after the watershed September 11 attacks India’s situation has remained unaltered. Ironically, in contrast to India’s global prospects, domestically the situation does not appear too promising. The country’s recent experiences in dealing with domestic challenges demonstrate a stark mismatch between its global potential and internal capabilities. In particular, two key threats deserve attention here which could impede India’s global rise and economic growth: home grown terrorism (HGT) and left-wing extremism (LWE), both described by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as the two most serious threats facing the country. (more…)

Mining the politics of corruption July 29, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Stoddart, Brian , comments closed

Brian Stoddart

Retired Supreme Court Justice and now Karnataka Ombudsman (Lokayukta) Santosh Hegde has just lobbed a political bomb on the desks of that state’s Governor and Chief Secretary.  The bomb takes the form of a 25, 288 page report (943 pages of findings plus annexures) into illegal iron ore mining that, among other things, involved the arbitrary shifting of state boundary pegs between Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka in order to privilege some miners.

The most spectacular finding is that Hegde has recommended charges be laid against the current BJP  Chief Minister, B.S. Yeddyurappa on the grounds that his family received kickbacks from the illegal miners to the tune of Rs 30 crore (approximately $US 6.7 million).  Another former Chief Minister, H.D. Kumaraswamy, son of former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, is also set to have charges laid against him – Kumaraswamy formed the breakaway Janata Dal (Secular) backed by the BJP to take power briefly in 2006-7.  There is no rapport between Yeddyurappa and Kumaraswamy, the latter earlier this year describing his successor as a drunkard and a stray dog with lots of bark and no bite.  The mining issue has really eaten into the substance of state politics. (more…)

Pankaj Oswal and India-Australia business March 15, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Stoddart, Brian , comments closed

Brian Stoddart

When Pankaj Oswal arrived in Perth early in the new millennium, along with wife Radhika, the pair was immediately the focus of speculation, curiosity, envy and suspicion in about equal measure.  They were young, obvious, ambitious and daring – he was aiming to create a $1 billion ammonia fertiliser factory on the Burrup Peninsular in the northwest next to Western Australia’s massive natural gas reserves.  The gas would provide the considerable energy needed to create the product.  Oswal swept aside the problem that his site just happened to be home to one of the world’s prime rock art concentrations, while Radhika moved towards creating a worldwide vegetarian restaurant chain.  Together, they became famous for their parties and the general lifestyle of the rich and famous.

It was not all straightforward, though.  There were immediate questions about how a twenty something had the $300 million that allowed him to leverage the huge loans needed to get his enterprise going.  Diligent journalists in both Australia and India lit on the information that he was the grandson of one of the great Ludhiana textile magnates but, even more significantly, the son of Abhey Oswal who had moved from textiles to fertilisers.  Suspicious minds thought the son’s stash might just have emanated from the father’s labyrinthine commercial deals from which some investors emerged much the poorer financially.  Pankaj Oswal, however, consistently denied that source, instead usually citing rich investors/friends. (more…)

India’s Maoist threat: ‘state power’ versus state malaise June 8, 2010

Posted by southasiamasala in : Gordon, Sandy, India , comments closed

Sandy Gordon

In 2005, PM Manmohan Singh claimed that the Maoist challenge was India’s “most serious security problem”.  That surprised many commentators at the time, who were fixated on violent jihadi terrorism.

Singh is an economist and would have been keenly aware that the 200-odd Maoist affected districts (out of over 600 – see map) are spread over India’s minerals and energy (coal) provinces and its timber-bearing, broadleaf forests.  In other words, they constitute a ‘dagger at the heart’ of India’s vital extractive industries.

This general co-location of Maoists (also known as ‘Naxalites’) and extractive industries is no surprise.  India’s tribal population (Adiwasis) inhabit the less urbanised and more forested regions where the minerals, coal and timber happen to be.  They have a deep, spiritual relationship with the land somewhat similar to the Australian Aboriginals.  Corruption and incompetence mean that they are often dispossessed by extractive industries with little or no compensation.  This has forced many into the arms of the Maoists.

India’s so-called ‘Red Corridor’.  Source: Wikimedia


The Bellary Brothers, politics and India’s mining boom May 11, 2010

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Stoddart, Brian , comments closed

Brian Stoddart

While Australia’s miners are belted by Kevin Rudd’s new supertax proposals, India’s biggest mining barons in the form of the Bellary Boys face perhaps even bigger problems. The Supreme Court had decreed that their Obulapuram Mining Company (OMC) in Ananthapur district of Andhra Pradesh should suspend operations for at least another three months, adding to the six during which no mining and therefore no profits have occurred. In an update, the SC has allowed a resumption of mining but only in “undisputed areas” and not within 150 metres of the Karnataka border, an apparently odd provision.

As is often the case, however, this is just the outer trapping of a much deeper and more complex condition that says much about contemporary India.

An iron ore mine in India – Flikr, Yahoo

Gali Janardhan Reddy, Gali Karunakara Reddy and Somashekhara Reddy are the sons of a police constable who was attached to the Bellary force.They grew up in the local area and dabbled in financial management, media and other ventures before embarking on twinned and interactive careers as politicians and iron ore magnates. (more…)