Centre for Financial Accountability (CFA) is happy to announce recipients of the 6th Smitu Kothari Fellowship for young writers. The 7 recipients for 2023 come from diverse backgrounds and experiences, and hail from different parts of the country across the length and breadth of the nation. The two-month fellowship gives an opportunity to young people for a deep-dive into some of the topics they are passionate about and publish. The fellowship encourages young writers to critically look at the world of development finance beyond lending. This year’s fellows will work on a variety of topics, including bank fraud, viability gap funding in India’s energy storage capacities, digital surveillance and welfare schemes, labour conditions and the fiscal crisis.

The fellows are mentored by Rakesh Dewan, editor of Sarvodaya Press Service, and assisted by the experts at CFA. The fellowship is instituted in the name of Smitu Kothari who was a distinguished environmentalist and scholar-activist and was involved in ecological, cultural and human rights issues.

The fellows for this year are:

Hemant Gairola is an independent journalist and an associate member of the investigative journalism outfit The Reporters’ Collective. With The Collective, Hemant has exposed multiple bank frauds, with one exposé leading to the Reserve Bank of India imposing strictures on the errant bank. He has also edited a book on financial frauds.

For this fellowship, he will investigate the widespread bank fraud of insurance mis-selling, and the toxic work culture that fosters this malpractice.

Snigdha holds a Master’s degree in Development Studies from Ambedkar University, Delhi, and has completed her undergraduate studies in Journalism at Bharati College, University of Delhi. She has previously worked with the People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI), the Economic Times, and NDTV. Her passion lies in investigating the interplay between informal labour, migration, and gender, all while drawing from the realms of political and sociological theories.

Snigdha will be writing about ‘Aadhaar-Based Biometric Authentication and other Policy Debates in India’s Public Distribution System’ as a part of this fellowship.

Asif Ali Zaidi has been associated with Article 21 Trust since November 2022 and is closely working on issues surrounding privacy, surveillance and Aadhaar. He holds a degree in Law from Aligarh Muslim University and has worked as a Judicial Clerk-cum-Researcher at the chamber of Justice A Rajashekhar Reddy of Telangana High Court. He is enrolled with the Delhi Bar Council and has also worked with Advocate on Record for some time. For the past year, he has been writing on various issues involving human rights and their intersections with technology.

For the Smitu Kothari Fellowship, Asif will be writing about ‘Digital Surveillance and Welfare Schemes in India.’

Swadesh Kumar, a Ph.D. Candidate at Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, JNU, specialises in the dynamics of Democracy and Parliamentary institutions. With a background in Public Policy and Governance, Swadesh has worked with the Lok Sabha Secretariat and contributed to the policymaking process. His research focus is on evaluating the effectiveness of Parliamentary Committees in ensuring governmental accountability. 

As part of the Smitu Kothari Fellowship, Swadesh will delve into the assessment of the declining role of Parliamentary Committees in ensuring financial accountability.

Dikshant Gehlot, a dedicated Dalit scholar and researcher with a Master’s in Political Science from JNU, is deeply committed to addressing gender inequality and economic justice for Dalits in South Asia. His extensive experience in volunteer work and internships reflects his dedication to promoting legal awareness, gender issues, and urban governance. With a strong research foundation, he aspires to become an academic.

As a Smitu Kothari Fellow, he will focus on analysing financial inequality and labour conditions among ASHA workers in Delhi.

Soumya R K, a Senior Reporter at The Fourth News, brings six years of reporting experience to her role. She focuses on rural and health reporting, trying to bring stories that create a positive impact. Her works have been featured in renowned publications like Madhyamam, AsianLite as well as on prominent television channels like Asianet News and various digital platforms in Kerala.

As part of the Smitu Kothari Fellowship, Soumya will write about ‘The Kerala Fiscal Crisis.’

Pallav Jain is an independent journalist and visual storyteller from Sehore in Madhya Pradesh. He has worked with NDTV India for 5 years and currently reports on topics like environment, climate change, just transition and rural development.

As a Smitu Kothari fellow, Pallav will write about ‘Viability Gap Funding and India’s Energy Storage Capacity.’

The works of Smitu Kothari Fellows 2022 can be read here.

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