Change of guard in Jharkhand Soren’s Pain, Arjun’s Gain?
The political uncertainty continuing in Jharkhand for over a fortnight may likely end soon with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) likely to lead a coalition government in the state. Party national general secretary, Jamshedpur MP and former chief minister Arjun Munda (43) may be asked to lead the government. It is said that BJP and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) would head the government for 28 months each with BJP electing to bat first.
Party observers former national president Rajnath Singh and general secretary Ananth Kumar after gauging the mood of party MLAs at Ranchi on May 11 had submitted their report to party high command that Munda enjoys the support of majority of MLAs. Two facts—being the party’s tribal icon of the state and having served as Jharkhand chief minister twice earlier—are supposed to have gone in his favour. Munda who started his political career as a JMM MLA from Kharsawan in 1995 knows the strength and weaknesses of JMM and can better perform under the compulsions of coalition politics, feel BJP central leaders. Kharsawan, the assembly seat that Munda represented thrice in 1995, 2000 and 2005, is presently occupied by Mangal Soy who has already announced to vacate the seat for Munda to enable him to become the member of state assembly.
Hazaribag MP and former Union finance minister Yashwant Sinha and deputy chief minister Raghubar Das were other major contenders for the chief ministerial post. A group of central leaders more close to LK Advani were in favour of a non-tribal CM as majority of the state population, about 74 per cent is non-tribal but majority of the parliamentary board worked in favour of Munda. Of the seven governments formed so far in the state none has been headed by a non-tribal.
Of the 18 party MLAs in Jharkhand 14 were reportedly in favour of Munda and about a dozen of them had also gone to Delhi to lobby in his favour on May 10, which followed the sending of central observers to know the opinion of party legislators and convey their sentiments to the party chief. The group of party legislators, MPs and district presidents unofficially led by Munda that visited Delhi on May 10 and met party bigwigs to apprise them of their preference about chief ministerial candidate, though received mild rebuff for their uncalled for visit but by that time they had succeeded in achieving their purpose. A vertical split in the party was quite visible at an ‘official’ meeting called the same day at BJP state headquarters to chalk out future programme of the party. Only four MLAs, three MPs and 11 district presidents attended the meet chaired by Raghubar Das, state party president and deputy chief minister.
While BJP central leaders were apparently adamant that the party would lead the Jharkhand government for full term, JMM legislature party leader Hemant Soren insisted that the leadership should rotate between BJP and JMM for 28 months each. Although the selection of the leader was an internal matter of BJP, the JMM would prefer a tribal face to respect the sentiments and political aspirations of state’s tribals, he added.
The Jharkhand crisis was triggered when JMM supremo and member of Lok Sabha from Dumka Sibu Soren voted against the BJP-led
NDA in the cut motion against the Congress-led UPA government on April 27 and the very next day the BJP top brass meeting headed by party chief Nitin Gadkari unanimously decided to withdraw support from the Soren-led government. The 66-year-old JMM chief behaved in a very dubious manner by voting for the UPA government and BJP took a very serious note of this betrayal, party general secretary Ananth Kumar told the media after parliamentary board meeting.
The BJP was scheduled to formally submit the letter of withdrawal of support to the Governor on April 29 but the decision was put in abeyance with Sibu faxing an apology to LK Advani, Nitin Gadkari and Sushma Swaraj that the mistake was committed owing to illness and his son and JMM legislature party leader Hemant Soren sending a letter promising JMM support for a BJP-led government.
Since the BJP could not thrash out a solution soon owing to differences over the leadership issue, Soren was allowed to continue for a week. Names of several candidates including Arjun Munda, Yashwant Sinha, Raghubar Das, Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker Karia Munda and Khunti MLA and minister in the present dispensation Neelkanth Singh Munda were discussed with SWOT analysis by central leaders but a consensus could not emerge with different central leaders batting in favour of different names.
Agartala To Become India’s First ‘Green City’
All public and private vehicles in Agartala will switch to compressed natural gas by 2013. The city’s largest crematorium already supports three ovens run on CNG, while countless citizens use piped natural gas in their kitchens
Residents of Agartala now have a choice of giving their loved ones an eco-friendly funeral. Instead of using the traditional firewood, they can opt for a cost-effective pyre run on compressed natural gas (CNG). CNG-run pyres are both cheaper and more environment-friendly and are becoming popular among the city’s residents. The Battala crematorium, the largest in Agartala, supports three ovens run on CNG.
The Agartala Municipal Council has in fact adopted a policy of encouraging the CNG-based crematorium over conventional fuelwood and electricity-based ones.
Shankar Das, chairperson of the Agartala Municipal Council, explains that using the CNG pyre costs a family only Rs 150; the conventional pyre costs Rs 350. “There are some sentiments involved but we try to reassure the relatives of the dead that burning CNG costs less and is less polluting,” he says.
Agartala, capital of the northeastern Indian state of Tripura, is located 2 km from the Bangladesh border. The city is maintained by the Agartala Municipal Council (AMC), and is divided into a number of wards, each with an elected ward representative or municipal councillor.
Recently, the Tripura government announced plans to switch all public and private vehicles in the capital to compressed natural gas by 2013, making it ‘India’s first green city’. CNG is a fossil fuel substitute for petrol, diesel and propane. Although its combustion does produce greenhouse gas, it is cleaner than the above mentioned fuels, and safer in the event of a spill (natural gas is lighter than air and disperses quickly when released).
CNG is economical and safe to use as an automotive fuel. It is dispensed to vehicles at 200 kg/cm2 pressure. It is used in traditional petrol internal-combustion-engine cars that have been converted to bi-fuel vehicles (petrol/CNG). Natural gas vehicles are increasingly being used in Europe and South America due to rising petrol prices.
Due to the absence of lead or benzene in CNG, the problem of spark plugs fouling is eliminated. CNG-powered vehicles have lower maintenance costs too, compared with other-fuel-powered vehicles. CNG fuel systems are sealed, preventing spillage and evaporation loss. Another practical advantage is the increased life of lubricating oils, as CNG does not contaminate and dilute the crankcase oil. Being a gaseous fuel, it mixes easily and evenly in air.
According to Das, autorickshaws plying in Agartala city and other parts of the state are already using CNG. “We are trying to encourage its use in other public transport as well. The Tripura Road Transport Corporation will soon be plying buses that run on CNG. An average car can run 22.05 km on 1 kg of CNG, against 15 km on 1 litre of petrol,” he says.
Tripura Natural Gas Co Ltd (TNGCL), a joint venture of the Gas Authority of India Ltd (GAIL) and the Tripura and Assam governments, has undertaken to supply CNG to all
private and government vehicles. GAIL is India’s largest natural gas transportation company, integrating all aspects of the natural gas value chain. GAIL was listed by Forbes as one of the world’s 2,000 largest public companies, in 2007. The first CNG station in eastern India was set up at Arundhuti Nagar, Agartala, Tripura, by TNGCL.
“The bottling of gas for cooking purposes is now done here itself though it comes from sources in the neighbouring state of Assam. CNG will also be available to those using electricity, petrol and diesel to run various machines,” says Das.
Housewife Shikha Sutradhar has been using CNG in her kitchen for over five years, and she’s not complaining. “It emits no soot or smoke. It even cooks faster than the normal liquid propane gas (LPG). Moreover, it’s cheaper,” she says. Her family of five used to require two cylinders of LPG every month; one LPG cylinder cost her Rs 350. Now, she spends just Rs 350 for piped gas for the month. Shikha’s entire neighbourhood has converted to CNG.
TNGCL has been supplying piped natural gas (PNG) to almost one-third of the city, covering over 7,500 families and two-thirds of hotels, restaurants and sweet shops in Agartala. Pabitra Kar, chairperson of TNGCL, says: “By 2013, we plan to cover the entire city of Agartala with PNG and turn the city into a ‘green’ city. We are also planning to set up more CNG stations and, in another three years’ time, we will covert more than 70 per cent of autorickshaws and smaller private vehicles to CNG.”
Agartala has become the fourth city in India, after New Delhi, Mumbai and Lucknow, to run CNG vehicles on a large scale. The authorities have also issued circulars to all government departments stating that they should hire only CNG-run vehicles. Kar explains: “We already have abundant natural gas in our region. By replacing fossil fuels like petrol and diesel with CNG we are being both eco-friendly as well as economical.”
The trend has spread to all sectors. The Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital in Agartala now has a CNG connection in its operation theatres, kitchen and bio-medical waste-disposal section. Almost 10 units at the Budjung Nagar industrial area use CNG as fuel in their furnaces; this has the added advantage of no power supply interruptions. Even laboratories at educational institutions are turning to natural gas.
“All the power projects are running on CNG. Two more power projects are coming up in the state which will also be gas-based,” says Kar. TNGCL is going to lay a gas pipeline from Maharajganj Bazaar to the Lichubagan area to cater to the needs of the new capital complex and adjacent areas. This will expand the CNG network to the entire northeast.
Efforts to turn Agartala into a ‘green’ city will also involve a sustained campaign on afforestation in and around the city. Agartala’s population in 2004 was 3,67,822 (it was 1,89,327 in the 2001 census). “It was a ‘green’ city and we want it to remain one. Already, 10,000 saplings were planted last year. This year, in the months of May and June, we will have a Briksha Mahotsav, or ‘tree festival’, where we will plant trees and guard them,” says Das.
Also on the cards is solar energy. The Tripura government has decided to make using solar energy mandatory in commercial, government and private buildings. This will help reduce dependence on conventional energy. The project will be undertaken by the Tripura Renewable Energy Development Agency (TREDA), an autonomous body.
In fact, the Union Ministry of Non-conventional and Renewable Energy has pledged to turn 60 cities across India into ‘solar cities’ within the next few years; the initiative includes the state capitals of all the northeastern states. To set an example for other cities, the ministry has decided to develop two cities as model solar cities, where an entire solar energy system will be set up to include street lights, garden lights, traffic lights, hoardings and solar water heaters. Energy-efficient ‘green’ buildings will be promoted on a large scale. The initiative, called ‘Development of Solar Cities’, will be implemented during the Eleventh Five-Year Plan (2007-12), and will be based on a model already being practised in New York, Tokyo and London.
By Teresa Rehman
The present coalition government consisting of JMM (18), BJP (18), AJSU (5), JD-U (2) and independents (2) is the seventh since the mineral-rich state was carved out of Bihar on November 15, 2000. Ever since the state came into existence, no single party has been able to form a government on its own in this state infamous for its tottering governments.
Political analysts are of the view that Sibu Soren’s vote in favour of UPA government during the cut motion was a deliberate ploy to exert pressure on BJP to follow his diktats in the coalition government but the move boomeranged with BJP reacting aggressively.
To continue as CM Soren was required to become a member of state assembly by June 29 but his family members occupying his preferred seats did not show any enthusiasm for vacating the seat. Sita Soren, widow of his eldest son the late Durga Soren, occupies Jama seat while his second son Hemant Soren represents Dumka, an assembly segment of Sibu’s present parliamentary seat. Although Paulus Surin, Torpa MLA presently incarcerated in jail for his alleged involvement in Naxal activities had sent his resignation to Jharkhand Assembly Speaker but was persuaded to withdraw as it was not considered a safe seat for JMM chief. Last year too Soren had to resign as CM when he lost to Raja Peter, an independent candidate in Tamar by-election. Peter is now JD (U) MLA from the same seat.
With the change of guard, Soren will continue to be a Lok Sabha member but saving the Jamshedpur parliamentary seat presently represented by Arjun Munda will not be an easy task for BJP as the party does not have a leader of Munda’s stature in the region.
Meanwhile, the Governor MOH Farook has advised the state government not to take important decisions in view of the political uncertainty prevailing in the state. On May 11, Farook called the chief secretary Dr AK Singh and instructed him that till the formation of the new government, appointment and transfer should not be taken up and only routine matters should be disposed of.
The Governor also inquired about the charges against former chief secretary AK Basu whose name the Sibu Soren government recently recommended for appointment as chief information commissioner of the Jharkhand State Information Commission. The post has been lying vacant since the retirement of Justice Harishankar Prasad about two years ago.
According to sources, the chief secretary has apprised the CM secretariat about Raj Bhawan’s instructions. Legal experts justify the Raj Bhawan’s initiatives and say Governor has the constitutional right to advise the state government in its functioning.
By P Vatsal from Ranchi