Jharkhand Assembly Election 2019: Local issues take back seat in agenda of parties in Dhanbad
In the ongoing Jharkhand assembly election, the age-old priority of political parties seems changed in Dhanbad. Rather than local issues, major political forces have made nationalism and secularism their main poll planks.
A smiling life-size statue of a coal miner at Rangatand roundabout at the Dhanbad railway station is symbol of Dhanbad, the coal capital of the country.
However, in the lighter chit chats at the roadside tea stalls, the statue often becomes a topic of discussion with opinion divided about what does the smiling face denote? A smile for development of the coal city, or smile in sarcasm for the plight of Dhanbad as not only the city but the entire district, with around 27 lakh population, still lacks basic amenities like drinking water.
Lack of drinking water is such a grievous problem of Dhanbad that since 1952, in every election - be it Lok Sabha or assembly - it has been main poll agenda of all national and regional parties but this perennial problem has remained unchanged in past seven decades.
Six assembly constituencies fall in the district. Three constituencies — Jharia, Baghmara and Nirsa — fall in coal-bearing area, while other three constituencies — Dhanbad, Tundi and Sindri — are in non-coal bearing areas. However, all constituencies have almost common problems. The district votes on December 16th in the penultimate round of five-phase assembly election in the state.
Besides being a traditional coal-bearing area, the city is also home to several institutes and public sector organisations of repute which have been functioning here for decades. They include Directorate General of Mines Safety (DGMS), Indian School of Mine (ISM) which was upgraded to into an IIT by the Centre, Central Institute of Mines Fuel Research (CIMFR), Damodar Valley Corporation DVC, Birsa Institute of Technology (BIT) besides divisional headquarter of railways, medical college and university.
These institutes have served as magnets for education and employment that has also added to ever burgeoning population of the city despite air pollution being a major issue in the region.
Development work has been started through the District Mineral Foundation Trust (DMFT). Under DMFT, ₹400 crore has been allotted for LED street light, ₹256 crore for flyover, ₹50 crore for Town Hall renovation and on revival of Sadar hospital.
However, basic issues of people in all six constituencies, including water crisis, pollution, drinking water, traffic jam, health services and rehabilitation of over 98,000 Jharia fire zone families, has remained unresolved for decades.
The township residents get drinking water through Nagarjun Project from Maithon Dam. But around two lakh residents of Jharia and Baghmara constituencies are still dependent on British-era system and get water from Topchachi lake and Damodar river once in a week, while people in Nirsa, Tundi and Sindri are still dependent on natural sources.
“Irony of Dhanbad is that election after election the political parties have been promising to solve the basic problems like water scarcity, road and power supply. Once they get elected the agenda changes to personal issues rather than larger interest. In addition some constituencies have some specific issues but it seems that have taken back seat in this election,” said professor Pramod Pathak, political analyst in the region.
In the ongoing assembly election, the age-old priority of political parties seems changed in Dhanbad. Rather than local issues, major political forces have made nationalism and secularism their main poll planks. Although there are total 91 candidates of national and regional parties on all six seats — Baghmara (15 candidates), Tundi (13), Jharia (17), Dhanbad (22), Nirsa (8) and Sindri (16) — all are singing the same tune.
“We had high hopes that Rajnath Singh would announce some bailout plan for Jharia residents living in Jharia fire zone, but he spoke only on Article 370 and Ram Temple,” said Babita Devi, resident of fire-affected Ghanudih Colony in Jharia. Rajnath Singh visited Jharia on December 8.
Mines fire and its related complication is also a burning issue of Jharia. Due to mines fire Dhanbad- Chandrapura rail track was closed. RSP College and schools, hospitals have been shifted and life of around 98,000 families are stake. Though, a rehabilitation drive started in 2011, merely 5,000 families have been rehabilitated till date . Interestingly, candidates of both national parties contesting on Jharia seat have not made fire an issue.
“Pollution created by Maithon Power Limited and Eastern Coalfield mines is major issue of Nirsa constituency. BJP did nothing in five years. Unfortunately, JMM leader Hemant Soren looks interested in forming a ‘secular government’ rather than coming up with a blueprint to solve local issue of pollution,” said Shashi Bhushan Singh, a resident of Nirsa Bazar.
Even in Tundi constituency which is considered most economically backward block in the district, local issues are missing from the agenda of major political parties.
“Irrigation, exodus of villagers and elephants menace are main issue but neither JMM nor AJSU which represented the constituency for last 15 years did anything for it,” said Pradeep Baski , resident of Maoist-affected Maniadih Panchayat of Tundi.
In Sindri, unemployment, health services and displacement are major issues. Though the proposed Sindri fertilizer factory has raised hope for youth, other basic problems still unresolved. “We have seen all left and right parties but no one took local issues seriously,” said Vishnu Mandal of Baliapur.
Like Jharia, pollution, water and mines fire have been perennial problems of Baghmara constituency but this election Dhanbad-Chandrapura rail track, which had been closed for 20 months, is major poll issue. “People of constituency fear if double engine government comes again rail line which is life line of constituency would be closed again,” said Vijay Jha, a local in Katras.