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Thursday, Aug 22, 2019

Lok Sabha Elections 2019: In Singhbhum, discontent against BJP government runs deep for land act amendments

In the Singhbhum Lok Sabha constituency which goes to polls on May 12, fears of losing land, forest and the tribal way of life are talking points that dominate the Lok Sabha elections and may decide the result here.

lok-sabha-elections Updated: May 10, 2019 15:55 IST
Debashish Sarkar
Debashish Sarkar
Hindustan Times, Jamshedpur
Congress President Rahul Gandhi with party's candidate from Singhbhum seat, Geeta Koda at Chaibasa in West Singhbhu district, Tuesday, May 7, 2019.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi with party's candidate from Singhbhum seat, Geeta Koda at Chaibasa in West Singhbhu district, Tuesday, May 7, 2019. (PTI)

The dilapidated 160-km long road stretch between Jamshedpur to Kiriburu via Chaibasa – particularly the 60-km Hatgamharia-Kiribur via Noamundi stretch – had played a key role in toppling the Arjun Munda government in 2006 and paved way for Independent candidate Madhu Koda to become Jharkhand’s chief minister with the support of Congress. 13 years later, a whisper of discontent haunts the Singhbhum region, which goes to polls on May 12, and the fears of losing land, forest and the tribal way of life are talking points that dominate the Lok Sabha elections and may decide the result here.

“This is a fight for land, water and forests. People in our society have decided to defeat BJP and if anyone wins by virtue of that, it is his or her luck. The amendments brought into the Chotanagpur Tenancy (CNT) Act and the Land Acquisition Act by the Raghubar Das government have shown this regime’s real intent,” said Mukesh Birua, vice president of Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Mahasabha (ABAM).

In 2016, the Jharkhand government made an important change to the CNT Act and the Land Acquisition Act. The state government empowered itself to use agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes, such as industry, therefore bringing in the provision to transfer non-transferable tribal land for industrial purposes.

Birua concedes that many cases of violation of CNT Act were linked to JMM supermo Shibu Soren and his family but he feels those were individual sins. “But BJP changed the policy altogether to deprive us of our constitutional rights. It is not important who wins. It is important that BJP is defeated.”

Also Read | Voters in Jharkhand’s Singhbhum don’t elect the same candidate twice

Krishna Bodra, Adivasi Ho Samaj (AHS) president, said Congress candidate for Singhbhum Geeta Koda was in an advantageous position after Rahul Gandhi’s promise that land acquired by the government under the amended land acts would be returned. “Rahulji said they have returned land unused by Tata Steel for five years to respective owners in Chattisgarh. He also said no land will be acquired without the approval of the Gram Sabha.”

Devendra Nath Champia, former deputy speaker of the Bihar assembly also concurred that Geeta Koda had the edge in Singhbhum, though booth and organisational management was a cause of concern.


If the issue of tribal land is what is dominating the political space in Singhbhum, closed and non-functional coal mines is another issue that has divided the electorate in the region

The Chaibasa-Kiriburu road passing through the Maoist hotbed of Saranda Forest – lifeline for country’s steel production and region’s economy – is now smooth and wide but the busy traffic of iron ore carrying heavy vehicles has died down, as 29 of 43 mines in the region are still closed, following the Shah Commission report and the Supreme Court’s 2015 order which banned illegal mining.

“Till 2013-14 when the iron ore business was booming, business was worth Rs 1,000 crore in a month in West Singhbhum. This has now come down to Rs 100 crore a month, and as a result, CSR activities by mining companies have died down. Only four private mines, apart from Tata Steel’s Noamudi and SAIL’s Gua, Kiriburu, Meghahataburu and Chiria mines are running. We hope for a turnaround by next year, with auction of mines scheduled in early 2020,” a senior executive in a private mining company told HT.

Reopening of the closed mines is an issue BJP has chosen as its poll pitch in the region. BJP MP Laxman Gilua raised the issue of closed mines in the Parliament twice during zero hours in the last five years. “No one raised the issue of closed mines involving employment of thousands but our MP raised it and it was because of his efforts that four private mines have opened in the region. How could the opposition even raise the issue when Congress nominee Geeta Koda’s husband Madhu Koda himself is a convict in the multi-crore coal scam and an accused in the Rs 4,000 crore mining scam,” said Dinesh Chandra Nandi, West Singhbhum BJP president.

Nandi said Gilua would win by a historic margin after Prime Minister Modi’s rally here on May 6, during which the PM reminded people that it was Congress who had propped up Madhu Koda as CM, leading to a trail of coal and iron ore scams.

“Modiji himself said no one can touch tribal land and forests as long as he is alive. Can you give us an instance when the BJP government has forcibly taken land from people? The Ichahatu dam was sanctioned during Congress rule in 1980 and so was the Mandal Dam. As for the Adani plant, people were paid adequate compensation and land was acquired only after their consent,” said Nandi.

“Another achievement of the Raghubar Das government is bringing down Maoist violence and Maoists’ presence to a minimum in Saranda forest. Vedanta is setting up a steel plant in Manoharpur and there would be over 10,000 employments. BJP has also completed constructions of the Chakradharpur bridge and a medical college in Chaibasa,” reminded Nandi.

As Singhbhum goes to polls on May 12, the two political camps of BJP and Congress are clear on which issues to bank upon in the poll season. BJP’s pitch of development and nationalism found favour in the constituency in 2014. But as polling day inches nearer in Singhbhum, dissatisfaction over amendments in land acts is what Congress’s Geeta Koda would hope translates into votes for her.

First Published: May 10, 2019 15:55 IST

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