With no trains, jobs or local voice in Lok Sabha, Chatra craves change
This is in addition to major issues such as the rail link to Chatra, highway deaths, power woes, and unemployment leading to opium cultivation — issues that the people of Chatra have grappled with for decades. Tall election promises have fallen flat, as the ground reality has remained unchanged.Updated: Apr 12, 2019 14:59 IST
It has happened again in the Chatra parliamentary seat in these 2019 general elections — all major parties, including Bharatiya Janata Party, the Congress, and Rashtriya Janata Dal, have chosen to ignore the increasing clamour for a local candidate here. The people of Chatra have never had their own man or woman as an MP after the 1952 Lok Sabha elections.
This is in addition to major issues such as the rail link to Chatra, highway deaths, power woes, and unemployment leading to opium cultivation — issues that the people of Chatra have grappled with for decades. Tall election promises have fallen flat, as the ground reality has remained unchanged.
The Lok Sabha constituency, spread over five assembly segments across Latehar, Chatra, and Palamu districts, has a predominance of Scheduled Caste voters. Chatra, Simaria, and Latehar assembly constituencies are reserved for SC candidates while Manika is for Scheduled Tribe candidates. Only one assembly seat, Panki in Palamu district, is unreserved.
After Jharkhand came into existence, ‘outsiders’ from RJD, BJP, besides an Independent candidate, represented this seat. In 2004, Dhirendra Agrwal, a Bihar resident, won on an RJD ticket; the first speaker of Jharkhand assembly Inder Singh Namdhari, contesting as an Independent, won in 2009; and in 2014, Sunil Kumar Singh from BJP sailed to victory riding on a Modi wave.
Seventy years after Independence, Chatra has no rail link despite the issue getting highlighted before every election. Sitting MP Sunil Kumar Singh had announced in 2014 that he would come to Chatra on a train to file his nomination papers during the 2019 elections. But no such luck.
The increasing number of highway accidents is another major issue, as hundreds of locals are killed or badly injured on National Highway 99, connecting Chatra with Chandwa. The accidents are caused by speeding trucks engaged in coal transportation from Asia’s largest coal project at Amrapali and other coal projects like Magadh and Tetariakhad.
Despite having many coal projects and an NTPC 1980 MW capacity power plant at Tandwa, the locals continue to remain in darkness, even as the coal extracted from their land and sent to other places illuminates homes in Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, and Maharashtra. The reason: the region is yet to have a proper power transmission network.
The locals find it hard to even get employment as coal loaders, because coal companies prefer machines over human labour to cut costs. This has driven the people into the illegal and lucrative network of opium cultivation. Of late, Chatra has become a sort of opium hub despite efforts by the police to bust the drug racket.
Listing the work he has done in the past five years, sitting MP Sunil Kumar Singh said, “Revival of Mandal Dam; construction Tori-Shivpur rail line; speeding up work at NTPC power project; degree college at Manika; engineering college at Panki; Kendriya Vidyalaya at Simaria; skill development centres; more than 300 PMGSY roads, installation of solar lights; Passport Kendra; Itkhori Mahotsav are some of my major achievements.” Singh, who is again contesting from Chatra this year on a BJP ticket, added that he also had a strong presence in Parliament by raising 608 questions on local issues and participating in 117 debates.
However, opposition leaders refuted the Chatra MP’s claims. Rajya Sabha member and senior Congress leader Dhiraj Prasad Sahu said, “What happened to his claim of coming to Chatra by rail to file nomination the next time? Has Chatra got a rail link now? He has, in fact, cheated the people of Chatra. He did not even connect with his voters. Most of the projects for which he is taking credit were actually started by the Congress party.”
Rajendra Sahu, a BJP rebel and a local resident, is contesting as an Independent, and has criticised major parties for ignoring locals’ sentiments. “The national parties have always fielded ‘parachute candidates’ from this seat. This trend continues during this election, too. But we are not ready to take things lying down this time. I am in the election fray to meet people’s aspirations,” he said.
Pawan Kumar, who runs a sweet shop in Latehar, said, “We are deeply disappointed by the sitting MP, who totally ignored his voters. I have not seen him visiting his constituency even once. I am a Modi fan, but am thinking about other options because Modi is not expected to come here and redress our grievances. It’s the duty of the local MP.”
“Had the MP been a local, he would have got stuck at the Tori railway crossing, which does not have a road overbridge. This experience would have prompted him to do something about it,” said Bhagwan Das Gupta, a resident of Chandwa.
Chatra seems to be heading towards a triangular contest between the BJP, Congress, and RJD candidates. Despite much speculation about the BJP replacing the sitting MP, the party trusted Sunil Kumar Singh again. The Congress fielded Barhi MLA Manoj Kumar Yadav, and the RJD has nominated Subhash Yadav, despite the seat being given to the Congress as per the Grand Alliance seat-sharing arrangements. “The seat is headed for a ‘friendly fight’ between the alliance partners,” said a senior Congress leader.
Total Voters in Constituency: 13,94,814
%age polled in 2014 election: 54.37%
Winner in 2014: Sunil Kumar Singh (BJP)
Runner Up in 2014: Dheeraj Prasad Sahu (Congress)
Victory Margin: 1,78, 026
Chatra: Jaiprakash Singh Bhogta (BJP)
Simaria: Ganesh Ganjhu (BJP)
Latehar: Prakash Ram (JVM-P)
Manika: Harekrishna Singh (BJP)
Panki: Devendra Singh (Congress)