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A Year Into Hemant Soren's Government in Jharkhand, Many Promises Remain Unfulfilled

New Delhi: On December 29, to mark the completion of one year of his government in Jharkhand, chief minister Hemant Soren addressed a rally at the Mohrabadi ground in Ranchi. On this occasion, he made several announcements relating to new schemes. However, many promises made during the election campaign, especially in the manifestos of Soren’s party Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) and its alliance partners, remain unfulfilled.

The alliance, which comprises the JMM, Congress and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), was voted to power in December 2019 with a clear mandate. The alliance, better known as the Mahagathbandhan, had formed government after securing a comfortable victory in the state assembly elections. Though in his first cabinet meeting on December 29, 2019, Soren had announced the withdrawal of all Pathalgadi cases, as per as a recent report compiled by civil society group Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha, many cases are “yet to be withdrawn and many Adivasis, including a few traditional heads, continue to be in jail”.

The data obtained by the Mahasabha under the Right to Information (RTI) Act show that there are 30 FIRs, spread across several districts of the state. The district committees, which comprise the deputy commissioner, superintendent of police and public prosecutor, have “recommended withdrawal of only about 60% of the total cases”.

Karam Singh Munda from Khagra village in Khunti district said that he was charged under as many as 21 sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which included charges of sedition, murder and abduction. “While charges under 124 (sedition) and 120 (criminal conspiracy) have been withdrawn, other cases are still on,” Munda, who was released on bail a few months ago after spending two years in the Hazaribagh jail, told The Wire. According to Munda’s brother, at least five people from his villages are facing similar cases.

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Aloka Kujur, a Ranchi-based activist who was also charged under various sections of the IPC, including sedition, said that she is yet to know whether the charges against her have been dropped or not. “I am yet to receive any official communication,” Kujur told The Wire. In the wake of the Pathalgadi movement, hundreds of Adivasi people were charged by the previous government, which was led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Not satisfied with the Soren government’s performance in the last one year, Kujur further said that the current government was not behaving that differently from the previous one. According to Kujur, the Soren government is yet to cancel the land bank policy brought by the BJP government to “grab land”. “Draconian laws like the UAPA [Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act] are still used by the government to criminalise Adivasis,” said Kujur.

One of the major promises made in the JMM manifesto was to provide jobs to five lakh local youth in the first year of government, and if that fails then to grant them an unemployment allowance. However, the government is yet to provide jobs as promised, nor is it providing an unemployment allowance. The government, in its defence, has said that it is not able to fulfil its promises because of the pandemic. But at the same time, they provided lots of jobs to migrants returning to the home state.

Speaking to The Wire, JMM’s central general secretary and spokesperson Supriyo Bhattacharya said, “It is not true that we have not provided jobs. For 8.5 lakh migrant workers who returned to the state, we created 25 crore man-days under MGNREGA.” He further claimed that “no other government has done that” and termed it the biggest achievement of the Soren government. He also mentioned that his party’s government had launched three new schemes during the lockdown to help the returnee migrant workers.

In the first week of May, the Soren government had launched three new schemes with the aim to develop rural Jharkhand. According to a PTI report, stating that the government is fighting the coronavirus pandemic compounded by the closure of industrial work, Soren had said that the state was committed to creating better health facilities and generate employment for the migrant workers.

However, a recent study stated that for most rural workers dependent on the MGNREGS, their labour does not end at the work site. According to The Hindu, the study revealed that many of them are forced to make multiple trips to the bank, adding travel costs and income losses, and face repeated rejections of payment and biometric errors, just to get their hands on their wages.

“For example, take a worker in Jharkhand who puts in a week of hard labour to earn ₹1,026 which the government credits directly into her bank account. The study found that almost 40% of the workers must make multiple trips to the bank branch to withdraw their money,” noted the report by The Hindu.

Moreover, JMM in its manifesto had promised that it will delink Aadhaar from the Public Distribution System (PDS). When asked about it, the JMM spokesperson said this has already been done. “Aadhaar/biometric verification is not required any more. One can avail food and ration by just showing ration cards,” claimed Bhattacharya. However, as per ground reports, Aadhaar is still demanded by PDS dealers.

“In different parts of the state, Aadhaar is still demanded for ration,” Vipul Paikra, a researcher working in the state, told The Wire. He also said that apart from the Central schemes, even in the recently launched state government schemes, biometric verification and Aadhaar is still mandatory, which is creating problems for poor and marginalised people. “Hunger deaths are still being reported despite all the promises,” he added.

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Commenting on the Soren government’s performance, local journalist Anand Dutta said, “While it is true that the government did some really good work during the lockdown, it is equally true that it is not able to implement its own manifesto and fulfil promises.” According to Dutta, it seems the bureaucracy is not under control, which is creating problems for the government. Paikra also hinted at the role of the bureaucracy in the non-implementation of the several schemes.

In its defence, the Soren government has been saying that it is not being able to fulfil various promises because the state treasury was emptied by the previous government and the Centre is not cooperating. Time and again it has alleged that the Centre is not releasing funds. In October, the state government rejected the loan offer of the Centre in lieu of Goods and Services Tax compensation.

“…the Union finance minister wrote to us and also called up to consider the loan offer. This is a strange situation. On one hand they are deducting our funds (Rs 1417 crore in reference to DVC payment by RBI) and on other they are pressuring us to accept loan (back to back loan provision by Centre laid out by Finance Ministry for GST compensation cess dues). Things won’t work this way. The cabinet today has decided to outrightly reject the loan offer,” Soren said in October.

However, in December, the state accepted the loan offer. “Now the State of Jharkhand will also receive funds raised through this window starting from the next round of borrowing. The next instalment of Rs 6,000 crore will be released to the States/UTs on 7th December 2020,” the union finance ministry said. According to a report, Jharkhand will get Rs 1,689 crore through the special borrowing window to meet the GST implementation shortfall, while it has been permitted to raise an additional Rs 1,765 crore.

Meanwhile, the Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha in its press statement on Friday said, “It’s heartening to note that the present government has given attention to some of these issues during last one year and also in the set of announcements made on 29th Dec.” The Mahasabha hopes that  the “Soren government will act on all its poll promises in letter and spirit and intensify its efforts for the welfare of Jharkhandi cause. We demand that the government should initiate direct and regular dialogue with activists and people’s organisations to bridge the gap between government’s intentions and grassroots realities”.