The “backward” southern part of Bihar – Jharkhand – got recognized as the 28th state of India and became a functioning reality on 15 November 2000 – the birth anniversary of legendary Birsa Munda (1875 – 1900). The original aspirations for tribal autonomy envisioned having a separate “Greater Jharkhand” in the Eastern Tribal Belt of India consisting of 18 districts in the south Bihar, 3 in West Bengal, 4 in Orissa and 2 in Madhya Pradesh (now Chhattisgarh). But what ultimately came out is a Jharkhand state with only 18 tribal districts of Bihar. All the Schedule Five areas of Bihar ended up in Jharkhand, along with the vast wealth of minerals as well as forest resources.
The statehood did not result solely for recognition of the unique tribal culture and identity but, to a large extent, to take care of the “development deficit” of the region.
As per 2001 census, the Scheduled Tribe (ST) population of Jharkhand State is about 71 lakhs constituting 26.3 per cent of the total population (2.7 crore) of the State. There are 30 different Scheduled Tribes and the tribal population is concentrated mainly in Chhota Nagpur plateau (Ranchi, Hazaribag, Giridih, Palamau, Dhanbad, Bokaro, and Singhbhum, districts) and Santhal Parganas. Jharkhand has 24 districts, 212 blocks and 32,620 villages out of which only 45% are electrified while only quarter of the villages are connected by roads.
Location of Jharkhand
Located on Chhota Nagpur Plateau and Santhal Parganas, the Jharkhand region has evergreen forests, rolling hills and rocky plateaus. It has preserved the pristine natural beauty and abounds in minerals and other natural resources. During the Mughal period, the Jharkhand region was known as Kukara. After the year 1765, under the British regime it formally came to be known by its present title, “Jharkhand” – the Land of “Jungles” (forests) and “Jharis” (bushes).
The British identified this region as a great source of raw material for their booming industries back home and to exploit the region to its full potential, established a vast network of railway line. Calcutta was developed as a major port to export raw materials from this region to England.
Geography of the Chhota Nagpur Plateau
Formed of ancient Precambrian rocks, the Chhota Nagpur Plateau is one of the oldest geographical divisions of India. It lies in the eastern India coving much of the state of Jharkhand and some adjacent stretches of Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Orissa, and West Bengal. In the north of this plateau lies the Indo Gangetic plain and in its south river Mahanadi forms its basin. It is associated with the ancient civilizations and glorious history of India.
The plateau region occupies an area of about 65,509 sq km and its topography is undulating and it is dotted with small hillocks and mounds. The Chota Nagpur Plateau consists of three parts (or steps) covering regions of Kodarma, Hazaribagh, Ranchi, Palamu, Singhbhum districts. Parasnath (1,370m) and Dalma (1,038m) are two tallest hills of the plateau. Chota Nagpur plateau is a store house of minerals like mica, bauxite, copper, limestone, iron ore and coal.
Besides, the Damodar river originates in the Palamau district on the Plateau, and flows eastward for about 592 km through the states of Jharkhand and West Bengal to the estuary of the River Hooghly. The Damodar Valley is spread across Hazaribagh, Koderma, Giridih, Dhanbad, Bokaro and Chatra districts in Jharkhand and Bardhaman and Hooghly districts in West Bengal. It is rich in coal and is considered as the prime centre of coking coal in the country. Massive coal deposits are found in the central basin. Three integrated steel plants of Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) are located at Bokaro, Burnpur and Durgapur in the valley.
Several dams have been constructed in the valley, for the generation of hydroelectric power. Established in 1948 the Damodar Valley Corporation, popularly known as DVC, was the first multipurpose river valley project of independent India. It was modeled along the Tennessee Valley Authority of the USA.
Why Statehood Failed to Fulfill Tribal Aspirations?
The tribal population of Jharkhand realized very soon that they have become more insecure than ever under the banner of “Jharkhand state”. In reality, all they got was a tribal Chief Minister and a few reserved constituencies. Under the guiding principles of liberalization, privatization, and globalization, the decision making system of the state was soon high-jacked by the corporate lobby. All the wonderful dreams for a more dignified and secure life in their own state turned into nightmares under the increasing looming threat of “development” activities. The tribal chief ministers enthusiastically signed dozens of MOUs with big industrial houses without ever consulting the poor tribals who would be uprooted from their lands to make way for the industrial or development projects.
According to a human rights report published by Jharkhand Human Rights Movement (JHRM), the state government of Jharkhand has so far signed 102 MOUs that go against the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution that guarantees to tribals their rights over the land they live in. Of course, state’s own Chhotanagpur tenancy (CNT) Act or Santhal Pargana Tenancy (SPT) Act are routinely mocked at by the rich and powerful.