Ranchi: Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren has purportedly threatened a coal blockade after tensions between the state and the Narendra Modi government escalated over a financial conflict this month.
On 17 October, Soren targeted the BJP-led central government for its decision to deduct Rs 1,417.50 crore from Jharkhand’s account with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), claimed as electricity dues owed to the Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC), a central public sector undertaking.
The Modi government directed the RBI to auto deduct the amount — out of the total outstanding dues of Rs 5,608.32 crore — on 8 October, invoking a tripartite agreement between the Centre, the state and the central bank signed under Jharkhand’s previous BJP regime.
Speaking at a public function in Deoghar Saturday ahead of byelections to two assembly seats, Soren sought to ‘threaten’ the Centre with a blockade if it took an “undue advantage” of the state’s “tolerance”.
“The central government is not capable to pay even the due GST compensation to Jharkhand. Instead, the BJP government is trying to finish the state by deducting money from its treasury,” the CM said in a speech that was broadcast live on the government website.
“Once upon a time we had resorted to economic blockade to gain statehood. The whole country had shed tears that time. The entire country gets illuminated by the mineral wealth generated by this state. Let it not come to the point where the local populace has to take the matters in their hands. If this happens then the entire country might plunge into darkness,” he said.
“The Centre should not take undue advantage of our tolerance and straightforwardness. We will not plead or beg before it. Instead we can claim our rights by snatching it from them. We will surely fight this battle,” Soren added.
The CM’s comments came after Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman wrote to the state government, advising it to take a loan in lieu of the goods and services tax (GST) compensation.
According to a source in the CM’s Office, Sitharaman and Soren also had a late-night telephonic conversation over the issue.
Speaking to reporters in Ranchi on 16 October, Soren said the state cabinet rejected the Centre’s loan offer. He said he told Sitharaman that the Centre is deducting money on the one hand while offering loans on the other.
Moreover, the CM also said the Centre owes Rs 74,582 crore to Jharkhand under various heads — including Rs 2,982 crore under GST compensation, Rs 38,600 crore to Department of Mines from Centre-run Coal India and Steel Authority of India, and Rs 33,000 crore due to coal companies.
झारखण्ड से 12 सांसद हैं सत्तारूढ़ NDA में, पर कितनी शर्म की बात है की झारखण्ड एवं झारखण्डवासियों से लगातार हो रहे पक्षपात पर किसी के तरफ़ से एक आवाज़ नहीं। आज झारखंडियों के हक़ के पैसे तो तुरंत काट ली गयी केंद्र सरकार द्वारा – पर हमारे पैसे हमें कब लौटाये जाएँगे ?
— Hemant Soren (घर में रहें – सुरक्षित रहें) (@HemantSorenJMM) October 17, 2020
Soren’s tussle with Modi government
This isn’t the first time that Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren has crossed swords with the Modi government.
In June this year, Soren opposed the Centre’s decision to allow the private sector’s participation in coal mine auctions. He also moved the Supreme Court against it.
The Modi government initiated the process of auctioning 41 coal blocks across the country on 18 June. It allowed foreign investment for the first time in the country. Out of these 41 blocks, 22 are in Jharkhand, with a total mining capacity of around 3,860 million tonnes.
The Soren-led Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) government also did not immediately accept the New Education Policy introduced this year. It said it will review the policy first as education is a state issue.
During the Covid lockdown, Soren also pressured the Modi government to bring back its migrant workers via trains. However, Jharkhand was also the first state to have received permission from the Centre to bring back its workers.
Since the formation of the JMM government last year, it has also been seeking release of royalty dues against minerals that have been pending for years.
Even on the issue of GST, which has been a hot potato for nearly two months now, the Soren government has consistently asked the Centre to fulfill its legal obligation to pay compensation at a growth rate of 14 per cent since the state made its budget keeping this revenue in mind.
However, the Modi government is asking the states to opt for a loan instead.
On 26 August, Congress president Sonia Gandhi had convened a meeting of the CMs from non-BJP-ruled states. During this meet, Soren had said, “The entire opposition will have to unite in a fresh manner. It seems that our voice does not have any potency left to it. We need to fight the Central government by combining forces.”
‘Soren doing this to avoid uncomfortable issues’
The latest clash has also come ahead of the 3 November state bypolls in Dumka and Bermo.
Soren had vacated the Dumka seat last year after he won from two constituencies. This time, the seat will see a direct contest between Soren’s brother Basant Soren and BJP’s 2019 losing candidate and former minister Lewis Marandi. In Bermo, the fight is between the Congress and the BJP.
The ruling JMM-led coalition, Grand Alliance, has 47 MLAs in the 81-seat assembly. The majority mark is at 41. If the alliance loses both seats in the upcoming bypolls, its number will fall to 45. Another byelection will also be held soon due to the demise of JMM MLA and state minister Haji Hussain Ansari.
Speaking about the Centre-state clash, BJP state president and Rajya Sabha MP Deepak Prakash said if any consumer fails to pay up the electricity bill in Jharkhand, his electricity connection is disconnected. Similarly, if DVC is supplying electricity then it will also have to be paid.
“As far as accusation of BJP MPs keeping mum on this issue is concerned, the JMM also has two MPs, Shibu Soren and Vijay Hansdak, of its own. Why have these two not uttered a single word as of yet? JMM is doing all this at the behest of the Congress. JMM and Congress are losing in the byelections,” said Prakash.
“Basant Soren has an image of being a mining baron. Incidents of rape are continuously being reported from that area. Hemant is indulging in all this rhetoric to avoid all these uncomfortable issues,” he added.