The state of Jharkhand came into being on 15 November 2000 after a century-old demand articulated by the people of central India. Despite holding 40% of India’s mineral wealth, economic development of the state has not been sufficient to trickle down to the people in need. The poverty level in Jharkhand, as measured by the Tendulkar Committee, is one of the highest amongst all large states with high levels in both rural and the urban parts.

With the start of any development project, a large number of tribal villagers are often displaced from their locations. The Indian People’s Tribunal on Environment and Human Rights, which conducts investigations on issues related to eviction of slum dwellers, relocation of rural people, industrial pollution, etc., reports a total of 6.5 million people being displaced in the name of development. Displacement in the name of dams, factories, mining, etc. goes largely unreported.

This also raises questions on Jharkhand’s better-off districts. Poverty is relatively low in industrially developed districts such as Ranchi, Bokaro and Dhanbad, but how did it reach this low level? Was it by raising the level of living of the poor or displacing the poor from their traditional locations? Spatial analysis shows a high concentration of poverty in the mining areas for example. This suggests that greater development has not necessarily led to lower deprivation.

Being centrally located amid all the poor states, i.e., Bihar in the north, West Bengal in the east, Uttar Pradesh in the west and Odisha towards the south, Jharkhand also attracts a large inflow of cheap labour. The entire eastern belt of Jharkhand, close to West Bengal, has a high concentration of poverty. Some of the industrially developed areas like Bokaro and Dhanbad are in this zone. For many generations, the poor have been settling in and around mining and basic industry centres in search of better livelihoods. Once removed from their traditional surroundings for a few years, they cannot return, yet the new surroundings have been unable to deliver on the initial promises and expectations.

Further, our analysis shows large pockets of poverty in areas close to forests. Jharkhand is a hotbed of Naxalism, which is a cause as well as an effect of persisting poverty in the state. The well-known Naxal war zones of Jharkhand—Palamu, Chatra, Latehar, Gumla and Lohardaga—are home to almost a fifth of the state’s poor population. The Naxal movement started with deprivation and a demand for justice and dignity. However, the violent nature of the movement compelled the Naxalites to move towards thick forest-covered areas for protection. These forest areas are inaccessible due to the lack of transportation services. Basic needs such as education and medical services do not reach these places.

The greatest irony of the so-called development process in Jharkhand has been the link between mining and poverty. We find that correlation between poverty and mining is far more significant than that between forests and poverty. This only reflects what many in the left-oriented political groups have been saying for long—that the so-called development process in Jharkhand has been hijacked by a few and local-level trickle down of the benefits of mining and industry is not occurring. Moreover, this work on spatial poverty therefore also suggests that life in the forests may not be as bad as that in mining-dominated areas for an average underprivileged household.

Obviously, this reflects the critical nature of poor justice and governance conditions in the state—serious problems that need to be corrected. But there is a more serious problem that has ramifications across the country. Minimum wages and other labour benefits do not work as well in such areas. The unskilled nature of work is such that higher wages will not come easy. Take underprivileged persons from the forests, whose skill sets are related to the forests and land, and bring them to a new environment for a better life. All of that is fine, but if we cannot help them gain new skills in their new environment, we will neither achieve progress nor poverty alleviation.

Our concept of spatial poverty that can be identified and measured via remote sensing allows us a far greater set of policy insights, the most important being that we are able to link poverty with the environment that gives rise to it and sustains it.

Laveesh Bhandari is an economist based in New Delhi. The views of the author are his own and not those the organization with which he is associated. Minakshi Chakraborty works with Indicus Analytics.

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