The name ‘Jharkhand’, literally translated as ‘the land of forests’, owes its name to the diverse flora and fauna existing in this state. Located in the Eastern part of India, it is well linked with the rest of the states both in terms of physical connectivity as well as resource sharing. Due to widespread illiteracy, rampant hate crimes, years of Maoist struggle and persistent poverty, the state has often been looked down upon and relegated to a secondary position. However, Jharkhand being naturally endowed with resources which are essential for industrial development and economic enhancement has a plethora of opportunities to offer to India.
Jharkhand gained statehood only in the beginning of the 21st Century. Originally a part of Southern Bihar, the region has been home to an enormous tribal population since time immemorial. The demand for a separate region dates back to the post- independence era, the efforts for which need to be attributed to the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha. Identity consciousness and the desire to protect the tribal property drove the ‘Adivasis’ in the region to launch a massive movement demanding a separate territory for themselves. Although a Jharkhand Area Autonomous Council was established in 1995, it was only on 15th November, 2000 that Jharkhand succeeded in becoming the 28th State of India.
However, separate statehood failed to provide a smooth future to the newly created territory. The availability of capital from the centre as well as the bottlenecks which it had to face with regard to adapting itself to the new surrounding, deterred the state from treading the path of progress. While states like Karnataka and Gujarat were dreaming of large scale development, Jharkhand was forced to resolve internal Maoist terrorism as well as excruciating poverty. Even today, Jharkhand is struggling to compete with the other prominent states of India and is far behind from them in the race.
Despite the wide gap between Jharkhand and the other states in terms of modernization, the natural resources in this part of India, form the backbone of industries and the economy. Two important towns of Jharkhand – Jamshedpur and Dhanbad, provide enormous quantities of natural resource, including coal and iron ores, to the major industries for their sustenance. The efforts of Jamshedji Tata who gave birth to the TATA Industries led to the formation of a well-planned city along the Subarnarekha and Kharkai River, which is presently the home to uncountable industries. Apart from the TATA Iron and Steel Company (TISCO), Jamshedpur also shelters a number of allied industries, which provide assistance to TISCO either directly or indirectly. The presence of factories as well as resources, has transformed the town into an industrial hub which has numerous employment opportunities to offer to the residents as well as migrants from other places. Dhanbad, on the other hand is the largest coal producing city in India. Home to a number of coalfields, this town thrives on this particular natural resource. Despite being infrastructurally underdeveloped, the coal from Dhanbad supports major industries all over India.
However, the severity of the impact of mining on the lives of the settlements around the mining areas as well as the labourers is a looming issue. The diseases that they are exposed to can manifest itself in the generations to come. Sadly, most companies and governments turn a deaf ear to this problem. Regular health checkups for residents as well as mine labourers is absent in the mining industries. The laborers of the developing countries are the most impoverished in this case since they do not have enough health provisions at their disposal nor do they receive a reasonably sustainable income to suffice for the entire family.
At the same time, there is a constant question that lingers over the infrastructure of the mines – whether they meet the requisite international standards or not. The Chasnala Tragedy of 1975 in Jharkhand that engulfed the lives of 372 workers is one such horrific incident which caused immense destruction to livelihood. Astonishingly the latest budget released by the incumbent government of Jharkhand lacks emphasis on the health and living condition of labourers who engage in tasks that threaten their lives. The dangerous nature of their work, the frequency of accidents in mines and the health hazards associated with the mines is a fact that is known to everyone. Mine workers are prone to suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), coal mine dust lung disease (CMDLD) etc. The National Mineral Policy, 2008 has vaguely addressed the concerns of the mine workers and the settlements that surround mines but specific measures to keep a check on the health of the labourers and ways to rehabilitate the mine workers hadn’t been mentioned.
There exists two groups of mine and steel factory workers here. The first group consists of satisfied mine workers who have grown to be loyal labourers in these industries and are comfortable with the inadequacies here. The workers in this group are complacent with the idea of travelling long distances on a daily basis at their own expense to reach the site of work. They have accepted the poor standard of living as “their way of life” and claim to be content with the little they receive. The other group is dissatisfied with the work environment here. In the absence of alternatives, they are forced to either seek jobs or remain as workers in these industries. Mines and steel industries display extremely low ratios of women compared to men. Very few women are employed in these industries. Even the Indian government does not allow women to be employed to work in the mines but they can be employed in activities on the surface here.
Generations in families have now been engaged in this industry and what seems like a vicious cycle will encapsulate the coming generations of these families to also be associated with the same nature of work in these industries. It is important to address the male and female ration working in these industries so that in the future, the women are not relegated to simply household chores and are allowed to be a part of the formal production process. Furthermore, in a state like Jharkhand which is overflowing with resources, special emphasis should be made on both infrastructure and the channelization of resources so that in years to come, the state is able to reach new heights.
— Contributed By Rajeshwari Dutta and Urvi Lahoti
Picture Credits: The Financial Express