Glimpses of exploited Jharkhand

I have been visiting Jharkhand for more than 12 years, often taking students from the South for tribal exposure camps to this state where in many places people have never heard or seen an electric bulb glowing. Jharkhand meaning “forest tract” is the name of a Province or State in India. It attained statehood in 2000 after a long struggle, as it was hitherto part of India’s most underdeveloped State of Bihar.

The region has huge reserve of coal, iron ore, mica, bauxite and limestone and considerable reserves of copper, chromite, asbestos, kyanite, china clay, manganese, dolomite, uranium etc.

A significant portion of Jharkhand´s population, 44 per cent, is below the poverty line and more than six per cent is still unable to get sufficient food. The poverty ratio in the state is much higher than that of the country. A recent report issued by the World Bank has identified Jharkhand as one of the most poverty-stricken States in the country, with a sharp contrast between rural and urban poverty.

Jharkhand is richest of all states when it comes to mineral wealth. As the repository of 40 per cent of the nation’s minerals, the State hosts some of the biggest names in the domestic and global corporate turf from ArcelorMittal, Tata Steel, Jindal Steel & Power, Jindal South West to the Ruias of Essar. The state contributes over 40 per cent of coal production in India and a proven iron ore reserve of 3.7 billion ton – more than one fifth of the iron ore output in India. In fact, Jharkhand is potentially even richer in mineral resources than what the available ‘statistics of reserves’ suggests.

The natural wealth of this area contrasts vividly with the desperate poverty of the people who inhabit it. This region has been for ages the homeland of aboriginal races such as the Mundas, Asurs, Santhals (they form the world’s largest indigenous tribal group numbering about 6 million), Oraons, Ho, Kharias etc. These indigenous groups have been the worst hit by the large scale exploitation of the natural resources of the region through the development of mines, industries and commercial exploitation of forests. The majority of them live in a state of semi-starvation, through out the year.

In Jharkhand mining activity ranges from the small, completely manual stone quarries to mechanical mines, most of which are illegally run by powerful interstate mafia. With increasing mechanization, mining equipment has grown larger and more powerful. Entire landscapes are altered in a relatively short period of time.

Mining ruins the land, water, forests and air. The loss or pollution of natural resources degrades the quality of human life in these areas. Increasingly, mineral-based production units like coal-fired power plants, steel plants and cement factories are located near mines. A cluster of thermal power stations are planned near the major rivers of Jharkhand. The Jharkhand government has granted 524 leases for mining various major minerals-206 of which have been granted for coal alone.

In addition, 2,717 leases covering an area of 8,426 hectares have been granted for extracting minor minerals in the State. Uncontrolled mining for iron ore, both legal and illegal, is destroying not just the forests, but also the wildlife, apart from the livelihoods of the local tribal communities. The impact on the forests has been significant. According to the state of forest reports, between 1997 and 1999, about 3,200 hectares of forest were lost in the Singhbhum region.

Between 2001 and 2003 some 7,900 hectares of dense forests were lost in the East and West Singhbhum districts. The development of any place can be gauged by the basic infrastructure. There are hardly any good roads though Jharkhand exports stones all over the country to lay new roads and rail tracks. There are hardly any good hospitals or colleges for students to study. Everywhere it is a common sight to see non tribals running business establishments. More so, there is a large influx of outsiders from Bengal and Bihar who exploit all the resources of the forests.

Once, the tribals were completely dependent on firewood for cooking. Uncontrolled slaughter of forest trees has rendered the forest and hill tracts barren and exposing the forest dwellers. For centuries the indigenous people of Jharkhand lived in harmonious relationship with their environment. They have developed a culture which is closely related to nature. Since their lives are closely related to nature, any adverse impact on the environment in which they live will adversely affect their lives also.

I remember a few years back, there used to be a railway station named Tinpahar, meaning three hills. There were three beautiful hills in the backdrop of the railway station. Today, only the name of the station remains. Hills have been shaved off by granite quarrying mafia. At the end of the day, what is in store for the indigenous people? Many of them give an answer that their own leaders have let them down. For many the only way out for them is to fight their own battle to secure a safe future for themselves and the future generations. The only way out as they say, is to join hands with the Maoists.

Can the sane forces of the State act upon this situation immediately or allow the green belt to enlarge is a big question, for now the Indian authorities led by the union Home Minister is happy to continue with the Operation Green Hunt, which many presume will never succeed. The problem would enlarge leaps and bounds. The only way out could be social capital investment, which could save the future of the Indian Union.

Dr. Paul Newman

Political Science Department

University of Bangalore

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