The coal mine mafia of India: A mirror of corporate power

Goyal, Yugank (2018) The coal mine mafia of India: A mirror of corporate power. American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 77 (2). pp. 541-574. ISSN 00029246

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An investigation of the source of power of mafia-type organizations may reveal how other non-state actors can operate as if they are independent of the state. This study of the coal mafia in Dhanbad, India shows that power often derives from socially hierarchical relationships involving debt and/or caste. It also demonstrates how state policies that are thoughtlessly implemented may solidify existing hierarchies. By analogy, modern corporations gain some of their power by behaving as if they were semi-sovereign institutions that draw their strength informally from social networks and other extralegal relationships. The mafia in the Dhanbad coalfields emerged through a series of institutional changes. Labor shortages were initially resolved by labor intermediaries, who eventually controlled the labor through linkages associated with debt, caste, and social obligations. These intermediaries eventually assumed official positions in labor unions, which gave them a platform for electoral politics. When the coal industry was nationalized, the union leaders further solidified their position in the nationalized corporation. In this way, private labor intermediaries became local political leaders who controlled the state apparatus to some extent. Corporations follow similar patterns. Both mafias and corporations exploit weak governments, collude with them, and often operate with a high degree of independence. Like mafias, corporations often derive their power from socially embedded networks that they craft in local communities and populations. Because the roots of their influence are embedded in social networks, simple legal and regulatory changes are often insufficient to limit their power. Transnational corporations engaged in extraction of natural resources share with mafias the ability to leverage monopoly power in one domain into control of other domains. As a result, this case study of the coal mafia in India offers a unique entry point to understand corporate sovereignty.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Coal mafia | Corporate power | Violating human rights and labor laws
Subjects: Social Sciences and humanities > Social Sciences > Social Sciences (General)
Social Sciences and humanities > Social Sciences > Public Administration
Social Sciences and humanities > Social Sciences > Public Policy
JGU School/Centre: Jindal School of Liberal Arts & Humanities
Depositing User: Mr Sombir Dahiya
Date Deposited: 16 Dec 2021 11:09
Last Modified: 21 Dec 2021 05:48
Official URL:
Additional Information: This article has greatly benefited from comments by scholars at two conferences. The first draft was presented at the doctoral conference in Erasmus University Rotterdam, Netherlands during March 2014 and the revised version at Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi, in March 2017. In particular, I want to thank Hans-Bernd Schaefer, Klaus Heine, Min Lin, Stephen Michel, Tobias Hlobil, Faiz Ur Rehman, Enmanuel Cedeno-Brea, and Ravikant Mishra for giving me valuable comments on an earlier draft. Discussions with Ranjan Ghosh and Pauline Westerman were very useful. Prasen Kondru and Kashika Chadha provided excellent research assistance. I would like to especially thank Mr. Amrit Raj for his exemplary help in assisting me during my fieldwork, and Aseem Prakash for reviewing the article.


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