Ranchi loses soul for material gains
It was a chilly night of November 15, 2000. Ranchi was witnessing a nonstop burst of crackers. The next day, it was a different place altogether, full of slogan-bearing banners: “Welcome to the capital of Jharkhand. We promise you development, growth and a proud status.” So, finally, the State of Jharkhand had come into existence after years of persistent struggle and agitations.
Ten years down the line, Ranchi has morphed into a town of bustling activities and changes. Real-estate business has flourished; so have elite academic institutions. The Indian Institute of Management has opened its centre in Ranchi, while the High Court regularly whips State mandarins for delay in opening the Central Law School. The Ranchi University may not qualify for central university status, but the University Grant Commission has accorded autonomous status to three of its colleges — St Xavier’s College, Ranchi College and Marwari College. Many are in the queue to be rated as centres of excellence. School education, too, has seen a great improvement. No wonder, Ranchi has witnessed a sudden influx of students from other parts of Jharkhand as well as other neighbouring States.
Gone are the days when Anand Hotel, situated at Firayalal Chowk, was a preferred staying hub for outsiders and politicians. “Seldom anybody comes here now,” says the manager of the hotel. After Jharkhand came into existence, hotels like Capitol Hill, Capitol Residency, Green Horizon, Green Acre, Hotel Landmark and AT International emerged.
Even people’s lifestyle has changed. Earlier they used to go to the local mandi for shopping. Now shopping malls and multiplexes attract them. A middle class family now prefers to visit Reliance Mega Mart, Big Bazaar, Reliance Fresh, Benetton, etc, for daily shopping.
Should the State Government pat its back for these developments?
Chhabi Birmani, a Ranchi-based entrepreneur, objects. “What you see today is not because of the State Government,” he says. “No government in Jharkhand took initiative to support the construction and real-estate business in Ranchi that runs into hundreds of crores.” This sentiment cuts across different strata of society. And partly, the blame lies with the instability of most State Governments since 2000.
Ranchi needs more accommodation and facilities as its population has grown manifold. Based on the 2001 Census, Ranchi had a population of 27,85,064. Now its population is expected to be around 34 lakh. “Remember, Ranchi was established by the British to cater to the needs of only 50,000 people,” says Vishnu Kumar Aiket (59), a member of the oldest Bengali family brought by the British to Ranchi a century ago.
Ranchi’s tryst with urbanisation has many hurdles. Real-estate business is struggling to grow at a time when land is scarce. “It is because the Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act and the Urban Ceiling Act prohibit the sale and transfer of tribal land to non-tribal and put a limit on the construction work in the urban periphery,” says a municipal officer. Although in 2008 then Chief Minister Madhu Koda had proposed an amendment in the Urban Ceiling Act, it could not be notified after the fall of his Government.
With bustling real-estate activities, one witnesses rise in land-related disputes. “If apartments and business complexes registered a vertical rise during these years, land-related cases and disputes also have been on the rise,” says a senior Inspector General-level police official.
Ranchi is now burdened with more traffic chaos than ever before, gasping to accommodate a vast population at a time when no major infrastructural development has taken place except three flyovers. The ambitious
Rs 900 crore Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission is in a limbo despite several governments in the past making tall claims to complete it by 2012. And, in between, comes the news of the fall of the water table in different parts of Ranchi with another sad statistic that almost 69 per cent of the population in the State capital has no access to safe drinking water.
Greater Ranchi could have been an answer. But despite much hype and hoopla about the relocation of government offices and other installations to Sukurhuttu, to relieve Ranchi of its growing burden, the project continues to get delayed.
Very few people, however, are mourning these drawbacks. After all, a qualitative change in the material life in the past 10 years is more pronounced than reports of drought and hunger last year.
Some people are missing the good, old past. “Ranchi was typically known for its tribal culture which is missing now. Old mohallas like Kishoreganj, Tharpakna and many others have been replaced by high-rise apartments. Sense of a metro has been forced upon a small town in an unplanned way,” says Delhi-based journalist Priyadarshan. “Cultural activities, street theatre and music performances have disappeared. They have been replaced by multi-screen cinema halls. Old cinema halls, despite less facility, had the pleasure of community watching — poor and elite together. It is missing now… even the culture has changed.”
Along this way, Ranchi has lost its greenery and thereby a temperate climate that never allowed temperatures to rise to uncomfortable levels. As a result of massive deforestation, Ranchi receives less rain now. It has lost its USP: Rains every evening after daylong sweltering heat. Its ecology has been smashed by cynical hunters of fortune — concrete jungles have replaced forests, turning the city into a parched land.
“It has had an impact on mental patients lodged at CIP and RINPAS situated in Kanke,” says Haq Nizami, director of CIP. Kanke — which derives its name from the ‘Line of Tropic of Cancer’ that passes through it — was the ideal place to establish the two institutes as it provided for the ideal climate required to treat mental disorders. A decade ago, the whole area was covered with trees. This is no longer the case. “If things continue like this, I what the scenario would be like in the next 20 years,” says a pensive Nizami.
It seems Ranchi may be looking for a new identity, but memories of the old continue to haunt it.