India’s scams and corruption are perennially ubiquitous – they keep recurring time and again. There is hardly a month that goes unnoticed without any major scam breaking out. It is not that there isn’t any scam elsewhere, but barring some sub-Saharan and Asian rogue states ruled by the junta, the scale and magnitude of Indian scams have outperformed every other nation by an unprecedented margin of frequency and scale. Typically, a scam exposé starts off with media frenzy and then gets lost into thin air! The typical Indian middle class’ short memories, inevitably brushes the scam off, and then the judiciary typically bails out the accused, and everything is business as usual. Even though media spotlight continues on the case for a while, the same mostly focuses on the economic aspect of it, largely ignoring the enormous social impact. Mostly, the multi-million dollar scams that prop up every now and then have huge negative externalities both at the regional and national level.
Let me talk a little about the recent scam, which has been rocking the nation – Coalgate! Coal mining – the lifeline of thermal power that constitutes around 66 per cent of installed capacities in power generation in India – is very inefficiently run, and I’m being graciously modest when I say that. The sector is marred by massive pilferage and corruption with open disregard to environment and conservation. However, there are many other serious ground concerns that have been missed amidst the entire current hullabaloo. To start with, the mandatory regulation of open cast and underground mining requirement is flouted openly, causing health hazards on account of environmental degradation per se. The corruption level is beyond one’s wildest imagination. Sample this: even the sand purchased to fill the old mines is being sold in the open markets for petty gains!
There have been waves of protests in most of the coal mining states – particularly socially conscious Maharashtra – against pollution, environment hazards, and land acquisition... but nothing much was done. Land procurement is done by the government, and also by the private coal mining companies, which have very little respect for the laws, and who have very little good-faith negotiations with the land owners! And mind you, these activities are on since decades, even before any coal scam was discovered.