— By Manali Chakrabarti

This is not my story. This is my friend’s but since he may never get around writing it I am going to pen it down as I remember – because this one needs to be told.

Well a description of my friend (henceforth referred to as MF) is in order as that would play an important role in this episode. He is one of the most interesting persons I have met in my entire life – he is well read (he seems to know something about almost everything under the sun and some over it too), well travelled, the most un-mundane way of leading life and most importantly he seems to be looking at the world at a crazy angle, always. This particular vantage point maybe uncomfortable to the conventional, but once you settle in with the unsettling perch a whole new aspect emerges on issues and situations which seem familiar to us from our regular vantage point. So having a discussion with him is always ‘interesting’. He is an engineer, has worked for long years in corporate world but gave it up to pursue a PhD to make interesting toys for children. He has two of his own, but they do not feature in this story so will not talk any further on them. Well after the CV let me briefly dwell on his appearance as that features in this story too – rather prominently. He is tall and stockily built, classical ‘Dravidian features’ and complexion, he is dressed nonchalantly (interpret it ‘as he does not care’ but may also come across as ‘he cannot afford any better’) not by design but by default. Well that is the picture except for a further detail – he is from a state situated in the South of Vindhyas, staying in the one of the cow-belt state and cannot speak any Hindi. He speaks English and Tamil – not necessarily in that order. Continue Reading »

A review of The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable by Amitav Ghosh 

By Suvrat Raju

“The Great Derangement” is a very well written book. It is difficult to write accurately and readably about a complex issue, but Ghosh explores the cultural, historical and political questions surrounding climate change with remarkable grace. Ghosh’s attention to detail, his research into the history of the British Empire in Asia, and his fondness for science are evident throughout the book.   And at times, in some of the parts that I found the most enjoyable, he throws in obscure but fascinating details—an eleventh century Chinese poem about coal use, for example.

Ghosh divides the book into three parts —“stories”, “history” and “politics.” In the last two parts, as I will describe later in this review, Ghosh turns to the contemporary politics of climate change and his intervention deserves careful analysis. Continue Reading »

III. How One Class Enriches Itself at the Expense of Another

What, then, accounts for the growing divergence and inequality that the Survey itself reveals?

In the first place, it is a mere myth that the ‘free market’ equalizes outcomes across society and the global economy. In fact, any market is only a social institution, the product of a history of the exercise of political power. When that history has placed the control of resources in the hands of particular classes and countries, and spawned vast inequality of wealth, the ‘free market’ continuously reproduces and perpetuates that inequality. Had the free market dogma been reality, the vast inequalities prevailing across the globe would have disappeared long ago. But in fact historical experience has proved that capitalism concentrates wealth at one end of the pole and the vast mass of labouring people at the other, imperialist countries at one end and underdeveloped countries at the other. As Marx noted, “If the free-traders cannot understand how one nation can grow rich at the expense of another, we need not wonder, since these same gentlemen also refuse to understand how in the same country one class can enrich itself at the expense of another.”[1]

Casting aside such ideological blinkers, we need to look at Indian society as it actually is. We need to look at the structures which determine the paths along which the social surplus will flow. Continue Reading »

Ajoy Sengupta

We are saddened to learn of the death of Ajoy Sengupta, at the age of 81, on March 16. He had been an outstanding distributor of Aspects of India’s Economy in Kolkata for the last more than two decades, distributing 80-100 copies of each issue. He was the most scrupulous of our distributors, clearing his dues in the old-fashioned way, by money order, in advance of all others, with meticulous hand-written accounts. In his gentle and responsible way, he would also give us pertinent suggestions and criticisms from time to time. He was of course a Marxist, engaged in the working class movement for the last 60 years. We understand that he worked hard to promote Marxist literature and study circles amongst trade union workers. We will miss him greatly.

 

RUPE

II. Growth that Reproduces Backwardness

Coupling and decoupling, twin processes
This process is brought out in the Government’s own Economic Survey 2016-17. The authors of the Survey themselves reveal the perverse nature of the growth process in India in some of their research conclusions. They reveal that the very ‘growth’ of certain regions/sectors reproduces backwardness and depressed incomes in other regions/sectors.

First, let us take what the Survey considers to be good news. The Survey celebrates the fact that “India has replaced its erstwhile socialist vision with something resembling the ‘Washington Consensus’: open trade, open capital, and reliance on the private sector…. Reforms along these lines have been adopted by every Indian government over the past quarter-century.” (emphasis added) As a result, in 25 years of reforms, there has been a “remarkable transformation… from a largely closed and listless economy to the open and thriving economy we see today.” Continue Reading »

  1. Two Worlds

Many useful articles been written about the recent demonetisation, perhaps the most discussed economic event in India in recent times. The entire discussion has brought to the fore many aspects of India’s economy. Among them is an important theme that we have emphasized in earlier issues of Aspects: Namely, the gulf between different sectors of the economy. This gulf has economic and political implications.

This gulf can be seen in many measures, which are expressions of a single reality: the gap between the income of the ‘informal’ (‘unorganised’) and ‘formal’ (‘organised’) sectors; between rural areas and urban areas; between the sectors producing commodities (agriculture, manufacturing) and the services sector; between income-poor regions which are rich in natural resources and other regions where income is concentrated. Continue Reading »

Coal Is King

(The following is an extract from a forthcoming book by the author on the plunder of the ‘commons’ in India.)

— Yogi Aggarwal (yogi.aggarwal[at]gmail.com)

 

Introduction

Two major events took place in India’s coal sector in the last few months.

 First, on the night of December 30, 18 coal miners were killed after the mine collapse at Eastern Coalfields Ltd’s Lal Matia coal mine in Jharkhand. This  pushed mining fatalities to over 100 in 2016, of which 65 deaths occurred during just the first six months of this year, for which  data is available.

 The Ministry of Mines has termed the Lal Matia accident an “unprecedented” event. “Prima facie, it is observed that the incidence is unprecedented, since an area of 300 m length by 110 m wide solid floor of the Over Burden dump area has slid down by about 35 m involving around 9.5 million cubic metres of earth material. This could be due to failure of the bench edge along the hidden fault line/slip,” the ministry said in a statement.

 In fact, the disaster at Lal Matia was a result of two factors: one, increased pressure to ramp up output to meet ambitious targets; and a policy of outsourcing to private contractors, a form of semi-privatisation of coal operations. Lal Matia supplies almost half the annual production of Eastern Coalfields Ltd (ECL). ECL awarded a contract in 2015 to a private contractor, Mahalakshmi Infrastructure Pvt Ltd, to handle an overburden of 20 million cubic metres. Repeated complaints by social workers  In the first nine months of the previous year, production at Lal Matia grew at the rate of 9.5 per cent. In the course of 2016, several complaints were made to the ECL management regarding the danger of the overburden, but these were ignored, leading to the calamity of December 30.[1] One of the reasons why private coal mines were nationalised in 1973 was precisely their poor safety record and the abysmal condition of the workers. Continue Reading »