CM Hemant Soren says instead of special status, will focus on getting PSUs to pay up rent, dues

Opposition parties Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) (JVM-P) and All Jharkhand Students' Union (AJSU) enforced a bandh on Sunday demanding special state status for Jharkhand. JVM-P and AJSU workers made shopkeepers shut businesses for the day in Ranchi, and blocked NH-33 in Ramgarh and train tracks in Dhanbad.

AJSU, led by a former deputy chief minister in the previous Arjun Munda-led government, has demanded special state status for Jharkhand beginning last August citing the state's economic backwardness. After the central government announced a special package for Seemandhra for five years last month, the party intensified its agitation. JVM(P) and BJP have echoed the demand.

“It was a historic bandh with party leaders and workers coming on to streets, traders cooperated. Today's bandh showed that the people of Jharkhand back this demand. If the central government does not respond, we will intensify the agitation,” said AJSU spokesperson Devsharan Bhagat. He said AJSU workers had formed a human chain over 243 km from Barhi to Behragorha. AJSU leader Sudesh Mahto had met President Pranab Mukherjee in November to submit a resolution on this demand. JVM (P) MLA Pradeep Yadav also said the party had participated in the bandh as a “warning to the central government.”

Chief Minister Hemant Soren, who leads a Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM)-Congress-RJD coalition in the state, has maintained that rather than special state status, it is more urgent that public sector units, such as Central Coalfields Limited, pay up estimated dues of Rs 20,000-25,000 crores they owe to Jharkhand as rent since the 1970s. Mr Soren had last year met the Prime Minister, the union Coal Minister and Law Minister in this regard. Coal India Limited owes the Jharkhand government nearly Rs.3,100 crore as rent for 24,372 acres acquired since 1971 in four of 24 districts, according to revenue department data.

Union Minister for Rural Development Jairam Ramesh said that states such as Jharkhand, Odisha, Chhattisgarh had an adequate resource base in form of minerals, but that there was a need to re-examine royalty, sharing of mineral resources. “Another way could be to fix a per capita income threshold below which all states will be eligible for special state status,” said Mr Ramesh in Ranchi on Saturday.

As per central government criteria, a state is eligible for special status if it suffers from educational and infrastructural backwardness, hilly terrain, low population density/and or sizeable tribal population, national security concerns, non viable financial nature of state finances. If this status is granted, the state will get 90 percent plan assistance as grant and 10 percent as loan, as opposed to 30 percent as grant and 70 percent as loan to all states.