In our search for what defines Jharkhand in the collective imagination, we conducted an informal survey across Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, and Hyderabad.
It revealed a tapestry of perceptions: green forests, deep mines, issues of naxalism, the legacy of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, and the cinematic imagery of Wasseypur.
Today, as we celebrate 23 years since the genesis of Jharkhand, it prompts a reflection on its transformation: a journey marked by the vigour of newness, the myriad of untapped opportunities, and its entrenched challenges.
In the span of 15 years, from 2004 to 2021, Jharkhand has crafted an impressive narrative of progress.
The per-capita net state domestic product (NSDP) quadrupled, the road network expanded almost fivefold, and the state secured a place among the top five in India for ease of doing business in 2015, 2018, and 2019, as per Reserve Bank of India (RBI) data.
Jharkhand was born out of the collective dreams of its citizens. It was endowed with natural benefits as it hosts 40 per cent of India’s natural resources, shares borders with the populous Gangetic belt of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, enjoys proximity to ports in West Bengal and Odisha, and has industrially developed and planned towns like Bokaro and Jamshedpur.
Despite the great starting line, Jharkhand faces a paradox. It currently ranks among the poorest states, grappling with the highest hunger rate, and ranks last among Indian states in innovation and infrastructure, as per the Sustainable Development Goal Index by NITI Aayog in 2021.
This lack of resonance challenges our understanding of development dynamics, and in its twenty-third year, Jharkhand finds itself at a crossroads, urging a deeper exploration of its journey.
What Shackles Jharkhand?
There seem to be three fundamental reasons for Jharkhand’s continued sluggishness in developmental parameters: policy inconsistency owing to political instability, policy hurdles in industrialisation, and gaps in public infrastructure.
Politically, Jharkhand has witnessed 10 chief ministers in 23 years, with a constrained bureaucracy having conducted only six successful exams for state civil services (Jharkhand Public Service Commission) in the same period.
This frequent transition in power and a weak bureaucracy have led to policy inconsistency, restricting long-term developmental and infrastructure projects.
Additionally, archaic laws on land acquisition and tenancy — remnants of the colonial legacy — impede external investments. Infrastructure gaps inherited from Bihar also pose major challenges in areas of agriculture and service-based industries.
Despite these challenges, Jharkhand continues to inspire hope and possibilities.
Potential Bright Spots
Jharkhand's abundant natural resources offer a significant avenue for economic growth, both in the past and present, playing a crucial role in the state's revenue.
However, the industrial growth trajectory reveals signs of stagnation or decline, evident in the graph (below).
This reflects that its full potential hinges on establishing processing industries within Jharkhand.
Currently, raw materials extracted from mineral mining undergo extensive transportation to states like Odisha, Punjab, and Tamil Nadu for utilisation in diverse industries. This aspect not only disrupts the supply chain, but also diminishes the state's revenue potential.
Given the capital-intensive nature of these industries, strategic investments with a long-term perspective are imperative. To promote local processing and maximise benefits, the state must address key aspects, including reforming land acquisition policies like the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act (CTA) and Santhalpargana Tenancy Act (STA).
Moreover, ensuring robust infrastructure — covering water, electricity, and roads — is vital for realising the untapped potential of Jharkhand's natural resources.
In terms of tourism, the state has come a long way.
From hosting approximately 4 lakh domestic tourists in 2004, the state’s tourism industry hosted close to 34 lakh tourists in 2021, as per the Ministry of Tourism Report 2022.
Though a significant jump, this figure pales in comparison to the neighbouring state of Chhattisgarh, which saw 40 per cent more tourists than Jharkhand in the same year, and has a similar topography, history, and cultural background.
The State Tourism Policy 2020 is a welcome step in this direction with the categorisation of tourist places, and offers a focused approach.
It, however, fails to acknowledge the gaps in infrastructure, both public and private, concerning tourism capacity.
Examples of tourism promotion from states like Madhya Pradesh and Odisha are relevant in this case, as both these states are of similar size to Jharkhand and have a stronger market share in both domestic and foreign tourists.
Sustainable change necessitates not just government-led initiatives, but also active citizen engagement. Civic participation relies on a robust connection with the state, pride, and a cultural affinity with the land.
Over time, this connection has weakened, especially among the youth, who, with technology and social media access, lean towards settling in metropolitan cities rather than contributing to their home state.
The state must invest in fostering pride through a cultural rejuvenation project, instilling a profound connection with the identity of being a Jharkhandi.
Learning from successful initiatives like Odisha's Pravasi Odiya Diwas and Chhattisgarh's Hamar Chhattisgarh project can provide valuable insights for Jharkhand.
At this juncture, celebrating its twenty-third birthday, Jharkhand stands at the cusp of transformative growth. The last two decades reflect both resilience and determination.
As we celebrate this milestone, it's crucial to acknowledge the strides made in various sectors, while recognising the road ahead.
With a concerted effort towards infrastructure development, strategic use of natural resources, and civic participation, Jharkhand has the potential to emerge as a beacon of progress, contributing strongly to India’s growth story.
The next phase of its development promises not only economic prosperity, but also a higher quality of life for its citizens, aligning with the collective dream that birthed the state in the first place.
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