Dear reader, this is less of a year-end list, and more of a thank you note. The web traffic on some of these stories clearly shows people do read long stories.

Thank you for allowing us to tell you stories from everywhere—rural Uttar Pradesh to the Amazonian rainforest and the slopes of Mount Everest. This list of popular stories is neither comprehensive nor ordered based on any metric, but it covers the gamut of the year that was 2019. See you in 2020.

Decoding the great Indian taxpayer

There is always talk going around about doing away with the income tax at lower income levels. But the question is, can the Centre really afford to do this?
There is always talk going around about doing away with the income tax at lower income levels. But the question is, can the Centre really afford to do this? (Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint)

The interesting thing is that during the demonetization year, Assessment Year 18 (FY17), the number of business income returns actually fell. Also, it is worth noting here that during the Narendra Modi era (i.e. since FY15 or AY16), the number of business income returns has barely grown from 19.4 million to 22.5 million. In comparison, the number of salaried income returns has grown from 18.9 million to 29 million.

What does this tell us? It tells us that either the businessmen are not filing returns or that many businesses have simply become unviable post-2016. Also, it is the salaried who are driving the individual income tax. They clearly haven’t exited the state. Click here to read the full story.

How India’s growth bubble fizzled out

Through the 1990s, India steadily ceded ground to neighbouring China, which emerged as a global export powerhouse of labour-intensive products
Through the 1990s, India steadily ceded ground to neighbouring China, which emerged as a global export powerhouse of labour-intensive products (Jayachandran /Mint)

India’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth has slowed sharply from 8% a year last year to 5% in the second quarter this year. Optimists, Indian and international, say growth will pick up soon. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects the Indian economy will hum at 7.5% a year by 2021. Such optimism is dangerous.

GDP growth could, in fact, fall and languish in the 3-to-5% a year range. The ongoing slowdown is not a short-term disruption. Rather, a financial bubble that began inflating nearly three decades ago is finally fizzling out. Click here to read the full story.

New hunger games in jobless Bharat

Hunger games in jobless Bharat.
Hunger games in jobless Bharat. (Photo: Sayantan Bera/Mint)

As the winter crept into the arid Bundelkhand region spread across the states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, Mint travelled to three districts — Chitrakoot, Banda and Panna. The idea was to take stock of the kitchens of landless households dependent on casual work, the most vulnerable among all occupational groups.

Data released earlier this year showed that unemployment was at a four-decade high in 2017-18; over 17% of rural men in the 15-29 age group were unemployed, triple the number in 2011-12. With access to jobs and food worsening, there have been frequent reports of starvation deaths from Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand.

The distress today is palpable despite the country witnessing record harvests of grains and pulses between 2017 and 2019. And the ground reality of a lactating mother starving herself to save on a meal is ironic and sad—the central government’s foodgrain stocks are overflowing (an excess of 30 million tonnes over buffer norms) but there is little effort on its part to extend the food safety net. Click here to read the full story.

The loneliness of the delivery man

Bechal Kumar Singh, 23, delivers a cake to an office complex in Gurugram's sector 21 on a Sunday afternoon. Singh, who hails from Darbhanga, Bihar, joined online food delivery company Swiggy a year-and-a half.
Bechal Kumar Singh, 23, delivers a cake to an office complex in Gurugram's sector 21 on a Sunday afternoon. Singh, who hails from Darbhanga, Bihar, joined online food delivery company Swiggy a year-and-a half. (Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint)

The era of growth-at-all-costs may be coming to an end for several Indian startups, and it is going to leave a lot of players unhappy. “Zomato has cut down on discounts, which has led to a drop in orders," said a delivery partner who has been working with Zomato in Bengaluru for almost a year.

The monthly income of a Swiggy or Zomato delivery partner has plummeted to between 20,000-25,000 from 40,000-60,000 in just one year. And it may fall even further. The question is an eternal one: what is fair? Ferrying food to someone five-six kilometres (km) for 30-40... is it fair? Click here to read the full story.

How one man is killing the Amazon

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro (Photo: AP)

Now, the worst fears of these ancient indigenous people have come true as harsh words and reckless deeds are pushing the rainforest to a tipping point. The Amazon is on fire, literally: leaping blazes are eating trees, sending up thick plumes of smoke, covering the rivers with soot, making animals run for cover, and pushing hundreds of tribes deep inside the forests. In just three weeks, more than 74,000 hectares of forest land has been lost to raging blazes.

But even in such a catastrophic scenario, the response of Brazilian government, led by far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, has been largely erratic. Click here to read the full story.

India is not being overrun by immigrants

While the bulk of Africans entering India are students, the numbers for Uganda, in particular, seem to be a data error, as it increased from less than a thousand to over 15,000 between 2001-11.
While the bulk of Africans entering India are students, the numbers for Uganda, in particular, seem to be a data error, as it increased from less than a thousand to over 15,000 between 2001-11. (Photo:Hindustan Times)

Anti-immigrant and Islamophobic sentiments rage across the world, from North America and Europe to China and India. Both these sentiments merged together in India with the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, which sought to offer immigrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh a faster path to citizenship, as long as they were not Muslim.

Hard numbers on the stocks and flows of immigration, legal or illegal, have been missing from this debate. For the first time in many years, long-delayed data from the mammoth 2011 Census exercise offers hard evidence to answer some politically volatile questions.

Firstly, the number of Bangladeshis in India is actually falling, according to the Census. Also, a number of Indians have begun to return from foreign destinations like the US, Australia and the Gulf countries, as a nascent economic boom took root in the mid-2000s. Finally, Bangladeshis and Nepalese are most likely looking at better prospects in Europe and the Persian Gulf as new migrant trails emerge. Click here to read the full story.

Narendra Modi matinee show: Inside India’s celeb Twitter

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Bollywood film stars
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Bollywood film stars

Modi was not only the central figure in the media as far as the 2014 election was concerned, but he also had the kind of apparent public endorsement from the social elite that perhaps no other Opposition candidate has ever had in the history of Indian elections. Perhaps, equally important was Modi’s continued engagement with celebrities post-elections.

As a result, celebrity Twitter has slowly but surely turned into a potent vehicle to reach a mass audience.

But what animates the consequential bubble that contains India’s celeb Twitter? Which political voices or personalities do they channel on to a broader audience? How does a selfie with Modi spread on Twitter? Click here to read the full story.

How India’s statistical system was crippled



Jayachandran/Mint
Jayachandran/Mint

The suppression of the jobs report that led to the resignations was only the last straw that broke the NSC’s back. A Mint investigation reveals that the systemic undermining of the NSC began soon after it was constituted in 2006, and has continued under successive governments at the Centre since then. The NSC and the office of the chief statistician of India (CSI)—who apart from being the secretary to the ministry of statistics and programme Implementation (MoSPI) is also the secretary to the NSC— have been at loggerheads for most of this period, fighting battles over turf and resources.

A divided leadership meant that several reform proposals that could make the statistical system more robust, transparent, and autonomous failed to make headway. The story of the NSC’s emasculation is part of a broader story of the decline of what was once a globally renowned statistical system. It helps us understand why the credibility of India’s official statistics has hit rock-bottom. Click here to read the full story.

Manmohan Singh vs Modi: The real India growth story



Former prime minister Manmohan Singh of the Congress and his successor Narendra Modi of the BJP. On a slew of real-time economic indicators, the average Indian was much better off under UPA-II than NDA-II.
Former prime minister Manmohan Singh of the Congress and his successor Narendra Modi of the BJP. On a slew of real-time economic indicators, the average Indian was much better off under UPA-II than NDA-II.

Between 2009-10 and 2013-14, the period during which Manmohan Singh was the prime minister, the Indian economy grew by 6.7% per year. Between 2014-15 and 2018-19, the Indian economy is supposed to have grown at 7.5% per year. Narendra Modi has been prime minister during this period (from 26 May 2014 onwards).

The economic growth during the Modi years has been faster in comparison to the growth during the Manmohan Singh years. The question, though, is: does this pass the basic smell test? One way of figuring this out is to take a look at real-time economic indicators which capture the economic decisions of the average Indian. Click here to read the full story.

What happened on Everest this summer

In the short window of a few weeks in May when summiting Everest is possible, at least 11 climbers died, including 3 Indians, according to data provided by the Nepal government.
In the short window of a few weeks in May when summiting Everest is possible, at least 11 climbers died, including 3 Indians, according to data provided by the Nepal government.

Around 5am on the morning of 22 May, Keepa Sherpa (25), along with a group of four Indian mountaineers, made the final push towards the summit of Mount Everest. It was still dark. And the group managed to stay at the peak for a mere 10 minutes—a short window of ultimate exhilaration after months of preparation and waiting out adverse weather. But the real adventure was yet to begin. As they began to descend, the group of eight (four mountaineers and their accompanying guides) ran into the largest “traffic jam" the world’s tallest peak has seen in while.

“I have never seen (something like) this before," says Keepa, who has climbed the Everest three times before. “The wind was also strong that day… so, it was very risky." Click here to read the full story.

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